Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Secondary and Postsecondary German Textbooks

This article by David Ilett, on the visual and informational content of diversity and ethnicity in German textbooks, is a very thorough and comprehensive analysis of the topic. Although relatively fundamental, the article does highlight the issues related to educating on a topic surrounded by such ‘political correctness,’ as cultural diversity. In focusing on an issue he explains, we both “highlight and marginalize” the subject matter in the process. In the language textbooks Ilett analyzed, many of them added the diversity subject matter as a chapter in the back of the book, which “alerts [the] student to its relative importance in German culture. Yet it simultaneously signals that the topic is marginal by presenting it in a ‘problem’ chapter at the end of the book.”

Ilett chose to study textbooks for reference on the social anthropology of ethnic diversity because of “their wide use,” and specifically representations such as photographs, drawings, and tables “because of their immediate impact and visual appeal.” He took textbooks from 3 phases in the educational process, “secondary,” “intro postsecondary” and “intermediate postsecondary” to compare the presence and context of pictorial representation of diversity in said books, he then reflected on the way students were taught and learned about the topic in their schooling.

His article brings up many interesting findings. Most interesting is, in the progression from secondary to intermediate postsecondary schooling, there is a significant shift away from utilizing images, and more towards verbal presentations to express the same idea. “The average number of readings increases from 2 at the secondary level to 3 at the intro postsecondary level to 8….”
Ilett lists the following questions as helpful when evaluating the “depiction of racial and ethnic diversity in a text:”

1. Does the book include visual and verbal depictions of diversity, both in German and US society?
2. Are its representations of ethnic and racial minorities not limited to those that illustrate foreignness or otherness?
3. Do they also frequently accompany lessons on a variety of other topics such as recreation, work, family, etc.?
4. Is there a balance between depictions that, on the one hand, focus on and inform students about difference and those that, on the other hand, portray diversity without comment as part of everyday life?

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