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Ghana Study 5: Children and Young Adult Literature

Since coming back from Ghana, in terms of children and young adult literature, I have found that more and more the importance is providing relevant literature to the lives of the children in Ghana. When we were at Titagya, I was reading the Highlights magazine with some of the students, and they stumbled upon a story called “Where is my goat?” The story was about a young African boy looking for his goat with his father, and the landscape was very similar to the landscape in Dalun. It was interesting to see the recognition register in the minds of the students, especially as most of the magazine had pictures that were very different from their lives.

            From researching the Burt Award as well as learning about the Gold Baobab Prize, I realize the impact of exposure to “people like you” on children and young adults through the media and education. This is a point where I can definitely relate to because I have never really had Asian American role models in my life through any forms of media. The first time any Asian American artist made the top ten Billboards was in 2010. Furthermore, I have never had a teacher of color in my whole educational career. Feeling the disempowerment of lacking role models makes me realize the importance of providing relevant reading material for Ghanaian children.

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Gee Whiz

I remember the first time I read a novel that had characters that talked like me. It completely changed my attitude towards reading. I began to read one book a week starting in junior high because I loved reading about protagonists that also students who struggled through social problems.

            This reminds me of the Gee reading because of the discussion on discourse. At the beginning of the semester, I did not have a firm grasp on the meaning of discourse. However, now it seems that I do understand it more, or I am at least more comfortable with the vocabulary. One thing that the Gee reading reminds me is the importance for people, especially youth, to see their discourse in other areas of life. Being able to read about people who went through similar issues and reading phrases and words that I experienced on a daily basis was in some way a source of empowerment. It made my middle school self feel less alone in the world to know that there are other people who are similar to me and talk the same way.

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How did I learn to read?

            I really enjoyed Tuesday’s lecture in class by Amy because I found the information on the traditional literacy process very interesting. Furthermore, it reminded me why I do not desire to be a traditional educator. If I could achieve her level of knowledge on reading and the reading process, I would consider being a teacher, but I over analyze too much to be able to be a good teacher in action. Being able to think about Tuesday’s lecture in comparison to Thursday’s lecture, I think about learning in a classroom versus learning a new type of capital that the women in Zimbabwe acquired through the women relatives in their lives.

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I have a confession to make. In eighth grade, I was first exposed to a documentary called Invisible Children that exposed the longest running war in Africa with all its atrocities. From that point on, being apart of this organization was my life and passion. I felt so enraged that human beings could be treated as animals and slaves in this day and age. I was a founding member of the club in high school as well as at Bryn Mawr where I hosted many fundraisers and participated in peaceful demonstrations on the behalf of the children of Northern Uganda. However, this past summer after six years of involvement, I came to the realization through divine intervention per se that Invisible Children as an organization had consumed me and made me into a monster. Instead of continually being empowered to help children abducted and forced to fight in a terrible war, I was more concerned with receiving the recognition and glory for my good works. The irony in all this is that the initial spark that created this passion for activism came from this deep belief in human rights. I really started thinking about how this passion is connected to the 360 program when Teresa came to our class and asked us why we were in the class or program. Originally, I applied because I had a passion to help from a position of privilege as well as compassion. However, through the 360 program, I no longer see a single story. I had compassion for children that were used for rape as a weapon of war, but I did not allow myself to see the an amazing culture.

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Am I Colonized?

Thinking back again to the chapter on Childhood and Postcolonization, I can’t help, but think how waste is also an example of how colonization still exists in our society. When the United Sates does not know what to do with all of their “stuff,” they just send it off to the Third World as a free gift. Not only is this unsustainable, but it is also perpetuating the power dynamic between the United States and other continents such as Asian and Africa. It is also ironic that the cycle is actually a cycle. Clothing, electronics, products are made by sweatshop workers or modern day slaves in factories in China or by children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These products are then sent to the United States and Europe where marketers manipulate consumers into buying useless products that they will eventually dispose of in exchange for more useless goods. The products they are “useless” are then taken to thrift stores and second hand stores, which only end up selling one fifth of that back into the economy and society. Finally the cycle goes full circle as the United States then ships all of this clothing and electronics to the countries that made the products in the first place. At some point, even these countries do not even need the products since there are so many excess products.

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When I was working at Haffner the other day, I was making Nigerian Banana Chicken. While I was scooping banana mush onto the chicken, several different full time staff passed. The chef I was working with talked to another full time staff member who was from Africa, though not Nigeria, if he recognized the use to bananas with meat. This staff member found the concept foreign as well. Later on, the staff member approached the manager asking why we did not have African soup for the African bar. He complained that the African bar had no foods that he identified as African. He said that these were still American foods. We found out further on in the conversation that the recipes are found on the Internet for the African bar at Haffner.

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Throughout this first week of classes and the 360, one book keeps coming to mind as I have read the readings. In Teaching the Postcolony, we read a speech by Ivan Illich called “To Hell with Good Intentions,” which was a commentary about white middle class Americans going to “help” other countries. While I was reading it, I wondered how to reconcile this power relationship between middle class Americans and the Mexican population that the Americans were trying to help. Illich suggested that Americans go to study and enjoy new cultures instead of trying to help. An example came to mind from the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett on how to somehow equalize these relationships. The book is about a white woman in Mississippi in the 1960s writing stories about African American maids by interviewing them. When the white woman, Skeeter, asks Minny, one of the African American maids, to tell her stories for this book, Minny has the same reaction as Illich. She does not understand why a white woman of power and standing would want to write about African American maids. Minny completely disregards her good intentions to change attitudes and does not believe she can help at all. However, throughout the book, Minny and Aibileen both become close with Skeeter as they work on the stories of the maids in Jackson, Mississippi. These women who seem so different by society’s standards become friends who love and respect each other.

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