Our Education in Peril

If you’ve taken any high school literature class, you’ve probably read one or more of the following: Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Romeo and Juliet, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many more novels written by our favorite white authors. Aside from a few analysis points and the use of rhetoric, what have you really learned through this hefty collection of novels? In other words, have these books done a good job of mirroring a minority’s experience—a complex and nuanced but necessary topic of conversation in this day and age?

The lack of representative literature is a running epidemic in our country, county, and school. The canon of the public school system inherits a notion of maintaining the same, narrow array of literature assigned to students. According to a Harvard article, titled “Hooked on Classics”, which analyzed the causes and solutions of stagnant literature, only 13% of children’s books possess multicultural content, and of those, only 7% are written by authors of color. This figure signifies a dangerous reality for the educational integrity of all students.

In fact, this is our reality. In today’s high school classrooms, teenagers are witnessing a clear trend within the public school agenda. Parkview senior Amani Barmare notes, “Since elementary school, we’ve been given the same types of books. They’re written by white authors and hold very little value to people of color.” When a book completely omits one’s views and experiences, it begins to feel a little frustrating. Barmare fervently expresses, “Our curriculum is white-washed, and it’s obvious.”

The heterogeneity of most public school curriculums does not just concern race but also sexuality and gender. Another senior, Jazmin Leon, shares that she would’ve “liked having books that featured different parts of her identity, as a queer woman of color.”

The Harvard article previously mentioned concludes that simply introducing a new set of books in classrooms won’t push teachers to change their curriculum. Instead, comprehensive training programs that allow teachers to understand the context of different identities will better aid them and their students establish comfortable spaces throughout reading and discussing that assigned piece of literature.

“I legitimately think this kind of curriculum is valued at the county, but I’m not sure they’ve gotten quite to the point where they’re doing a great job training teachers . . .,” states Multicultural Literature teacher David Thompson.

Although we have made efforts to diversify the curriculum, including Parkview’s new Multicultural Literature class, there remains a bias among other literature classes teachers to keep the same set of books. This phenomenon is the accumulation of a white-washed history, where the majority of the work remains.

Thompson adds that including different, representative books aside from the classics can portray teachers as “political kickball,” which he believes may also add to the difficulty of teachers changing their curriculum. Thompson expresses, “You want to feel supported and not attacked by the public and politicians.”

Literature defines our ways of navigating the world, our moral compass, and our relationships with others.

“Reading impacted how I viewed the world and how I saw things and myself,” adds Thompson. Essentially, it continues to build on our identities. For today’s diverse student body to successfully implement literature in their contemporary lives, they need the opportunity to read something new.

To encourage teachers to change their lessons, students can display interest in what they’re reading. “Teachers do pay attention to what their students read and what they like,” says Thompson. Of course, teachers at Parkview have the choice of which books to give their students to read, but a century’s worth of the American public school system challenges prospects of overall change in our entire country, at least for a while.