Rachel Kramer Theodorou (ED) is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Elementary Faculty Leader according to the Brandeis faculty website. According to her profile, she used to be a classroom elementary and English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms for over 20 years in both public and private schools. Throughout her time in the classroom, she noticed that there was a lack of diverse representation across many different social identities such as race, ethnicity and more according to a BrandeisNOW article.
Specifically, after analyzing the different books within her own classroom, she found that many of the stories included white children and very few children of color, with Theodorou stating that “this was during the start of the multicultural education reform movement” according to the article. A post by University of Washington College of Education states that a goal of the multicultural education reform schools so that students have the necessary skill set to navigate through a racially and ethnically diverse world. Under this movement, the article states that schools began to create many diverse books collections that increase representations of diverse communities within the classroom. Nadine Sims Bishop’s “Windows and Mirrors” analogy, quoted by the article, states that this literature allows kids to see themselves better (mirrors) and also be able to understand and create connections to others (doors).
For Theodorou, this means heavily favoring the use of books and other texts that contain diverse characters, as opposed to overrepresentation of a particular group, according to the article. Moreover, in her class ED 232A, which is “focused on the principles and effective procedures for teaching in elementary school” according to the course page, this means allowing students to first analyze their own biases and their own experience of human differences. The students then analyze children’s literature and choose materials that will resonate culturally with kids, according to the article. According to Theodorou, this will allow students to “become thoughtful educators that fill their classrooms with literature their students feel seen in,” according to the article.
This type of approach has seen a positive approach in classrooms, with Theodorou stating that “you can see their excitement as they practice reading these pieces to each other,” further emphasizing that “they are choosing books for their own classrooms” in the article. Jackie Mundus ’22, a student in elementary teacher education, has also said that “[she] now truly realize[s] how children’s books can transform a student’s relationship with themselves, one another, and their education.”
According to the article, librarians Zoe Weinstein and Alex Willett are also attempting to expand their collection of early education books. They have already received award-winning books as well as taking requests from other members of the community. These efforts have not gone unnoticed by other departments, however. Departments such as Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies classes which are independent of the education program have also been using this new collection of books, according to the article. It also states that there are cases which students have borrowed books for use at home, where students read the books of this new collection to children.