let’s talk about the missing diversity in english class

classics

 

I was recently reminded of the blatant lack of diversity that still plagues our classrooms. I go through this every year. Back to school sales are popping up as everyone prepares for next year. No matter how unconventional that year is going to be, students are preparing and buying supplies. Among those supplies are books for English and literature classes. As I viewed my list of required books for the year, I wasn’t even surprised that all of them, but one, were written by white men. I have written posts before about problematic aspects of literature, this post is going to focus on its role in classrooms.


 

what does it mean to be diverse?  A diverse curriculum is one that encompasses more than one perspective in regards to literature, authors, story, etc. It includes books and authors other than the standard cis-gendered, European, white man.

classics. Don’t get me wrong, I love classics. Bronte, Henry James, etc. The issue is that the classics that are included in classes are European and American focused literature, highlighting privileged white stories. Additionally, there is a repeated justification for a lack of diversity in classrooms that classics are an important part of history depicting life and literature back then; that a racist classic is important to keep in the classroom because it’s historically accurate. This can be true, but that justification is only sound if curriculums included non-mainstream classics that show a full depiction of history.

modern fiction. This is where I have personally seen the most progress. At least at my school, the few diverse books that are included are usually more modern fiction. This is definitely progress and I think that’s it’s important to acknowledge the positive aspects of this discussion. However, I think that there is a larger message to be considered here. I wrote a blog post called “how are we going to have a discussion if people aren’t going to talk?“, which kind of gets at that message. Introducing diverse literature is only the first step. We need to take it further by encouraging discussions about the specific perspectives and why we are reading these books in the first place.

nonfiction. I know that it’s not standard to read nonfiction books in English class, but schools do use lots of textbooks. And as we all know, even facts and representations of history can be bias. A good example of this would be various representations of Christopher Columbus. However, through these books, we are taught that these are the undeniable facts and we believe it because… a teacher said so. There is such an unacknowledged gap in nonfiction and textbooks and their authors that makes such an impact on impressionable minds. 

authors. I already did an entire blog post on diversity amongst authors. You can click here to read it but here’s a quick recap: The issue is that there are books by minorities, they just aren’t published mainstream. That post really goes into depth in the impact of showing how kids need to see themselves represented in books and that a large part of that comes from the author. 

electives. Often students have to rely on electives for specific exposure to diverse literature. The problem is, not every school has electives or has the means to provide electives. And why should students have to go out of their way to choose to read about nontypical narratives when they could just be included in the original curriculum. That also provides an implication that diverse literature isn’t what we should consider the standard and that it belongs outside of general knowledge. Which is not the case. To provide a full education, we need to be teaching students that inspecting diverse readings with multiple perspectives.

impact on students. Why should we care? What’s the harm? Well, if all of the books we read are written from one perspective, telling one kind of story, then that’s what kids grow up thinking is acceptable and normal. Their minds get restricting to one idea of what the world is really like. And without diversity of literature, kids grow up ignorant of all of the perspectives, cultures, and ideas that aren’t included in the curriculum. 

outside of the classroom. The last thing I want to touch on is that not only should we promote a more diverse classroom, but we need to extend that diversity of literature outside of the classroom. I’m at fault with this too and it’s something I’m trying to work on. Here’s a book list with some diverse classics, but you can always look for diverse literature in any genre.

 


 

I really hope you found this post helpful and please feel free to comment any book or article recommendations in the comments! I have included some more resources and book lists in case you want to continue learning about this and what you can do to ensure a more diverse curriculum.

 

Resources:

image vis Penguinclassicsbook

https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/ (if I could only recommend one resource, this would be it)

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/19/08/hooked-classics

https://www.panmacmillan.com/blogs/classics/diverse-classic-books

Diversify Our Narrative: California students demand curriculum change

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/06/12/teachers-push-for-more-diverse-books-fewer.html

 

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