Día de Los Muertos: Integrating Culture
into the Curriculum
At one table, students fold drops of yellow, green and blue food coloring into cream cheese frosting. At another a group huddles, intently molding lumps the shape of skulls into thick mounds of crystalline confection. The bilingual education majors are crafting sugar skulls, part of their preparations for a Día de Los Muertos celebration. The careful crafting is also a chance for them to practice a cultural tradition, one that many will eventually teach to elementary school children after they’ve embarked on their teaching journeys.
The students are enrolled in Dr. Haydee Rodriguez’s Spanish Methods for the Bilingual Teacher class at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.
“Día de Los Muertos is an important celebration in most Latin cultures,” explains Rodriguez. “The living and the dead are a continuum in our culture. The altar is a place of offerings and remembrances. For example, we place food on the altar that reminds us of the departed, along with photos of them. The celebration gives us a chance to not only remember our ancestors but to keep them, their beliefs and their values as part of our lives.”
There are similar traditions in nearly every culture, she notes, but many of her students happen to share a Latino heritage with the students that they’ll find in their own elementary classrooms.
Says Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant Desiree Pallais, “When teachers are able to bring in what’s meaningful from their students’ culture into the school and curriculum, it is not only affirming of the students’ identity, it makes the content more relevant and meaningful, which enhances learning.”
“But don’t eat the skulls,” Rodriguez cautions, with a smile. “After all of the handling these things go through, you wouldn’t want to consider them edible.”
Día de Los Muertos is celebrated and observed on the evening of November 1 through the 2nd.
M. Yvonne Taylor, 512-471-3916