On Diverse Literature in the Classroom

%28Courtesy+of+The+DePaulia%29

(Courtesy of The DePaulia)

Parkview High School is often applauded for its diversity, but there is still a significant lack of diverse literature in the classroom, with some teachers refusing to teach it. 

Parkview is recorded to be in the top 1% of most diverse high schools in Georgia, according to publicschoolreview, with a diversity score of 0.77% out of a total 1.00. Despite this, one glance at the high school reading list reveals an overwhelming majority of white authors. 

“I put this together for a presentation to the Department last year. And it was talking about the necessity for diversity in our reading curriculum,” said Jeremiah Byars, a language arts teacher at Parkview, referencing a schoolwide diversity report. “So as of the 2019-2020 school year our demographics show we had 28% white kids, 25.6% African-American, 21% Asian, and 21% Hispanic; 48% Female, 53% Male. But if you look at the required novel list, 88% of those were white male authors and 98% of those were white authors in general. So sixteen of the seventeen books that all the grade levels are supposed to teach like Lord of the Flies, The Crucible, of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, the Odyssey and so forth, 98% of that is white authors. But if you look at the statistics, only 28% of the school is white. There’s a definite inequality in the balance of required reading.” 

Though required reading has very little variety, individual teachers like Byars are able to diversify their own classroom curriculum. 

Mr. Byars has taught works by Issa Rae, Langston Hughes, and W. Kamau Bell, as well as The Hate You Give, according to student Devan Sloan El. “I have some kids reading The Poet X. Currently I have book clubs which the kids are reading. I’m not teaching those personally, they are reading them in book clubs,” Byars said.

However, diversity is not written in the requirements, and not all teachers have a desire to expand student world-view as well as their own. There is no enforced policy other than the senior Multicultural Literature class, which is taught by two white men.

When asked what he thinks the cause is, Byars said, ”Tradition. I went to Berkmar, I graduated twenty years ago, and it’s the same textbook. Twenty years ago we taught the same curriculum. Nothing’s really changed.”

“Gwinnett County for a long time was a white majority. It became very popular when Dekalb County became more diverse. There’s this thing called ‘White Flight,’ which is where white people leave the urban areas and so they moved out of Dekalb County into Gwinnett. And so for a real long time Gwinnett County was very white-washed and the curriculum  reflected that. And so, now that the demographics have changed over the last thirty years, the curriculum has not caught up to it. It’s starting to, I mean the whole point is that we have this Multicultural class, that’s a good sign, but the times are changing faster than the curriculum.”

One slow solution to the problem was the presentation of required reading, where students may read diverse books on their own. However, some teachers don’t offer silent reading at all and for those that do, how can they be sure students aren’t just reading what they’ve been taught to be comfortable with?

To quote Byars: “There’s this idea of the canon. The canon is this collection of traditional authors who have been deemed as pinnacle of good writing. Which they are good, but they’re Eurocentirc. They’re white, male, straight, Christian writers. I mean, there’s some atheists in there but y’know. It’s part of why you call them, capital ‘T’ Tradition. And it’s just hard to break that because they are good writers but the whole point is that if you don’t want to get rid of these, we’ve got to make the table bigger so we can bring more chairs.”