If you ask a group of high schoolers what they read in their English Lit. class, you’ll most likely hear very similar answers from all of them: A Tale of Two Cities, Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby, A Christmas Carol, the list goes on. For decades, most of what students read in their English classes has been the same.
While it is important to read and analyze classics such as the ones mentioned, many schools disregard representation in the chosen books for this said motive. When taking a look at the demographics of the authors that have written most of the books in the high school curriculum, you’ll find that almost all of them are men, and almost all of them are white. This results in many students’ English class experience being Euro-centric and lacking in diversity.
In my own high school career, I have only read one book written by a woman (out of 8, currently) and no books written by any POC authors. Writing is my passion, and while I hope to one day be able to use that in my career, it’s discouraging to not see a more diverse range of people representing this career path.
Not only is the diversity of authors important, but also the content that is in these books. A less diverse pool of authors means that the stories read will most likely not contain many different cultures and points of view. One of the main aspects of literature is being able to resonate with the story, and without diverse authors, many high school readers are left feeling disconnected from the lesson and unrepresented in their classroom.
Another important aspect is being introduced to new cultures. This is especially important in schools that are lacking in diversity. Being exposed to different values, religions, and ways of life in general through literature prepares teens for the world, and teaches them to be respectful toward others that have different lifestyles than they do. It helps to be knowledgeable of other beliefs besides one’s own, but this isn’t possible if English classes’ works of literature do not represent a wide variety of cultures.
We live in a world that is quickly changing, a lot for the better. English classes need to reflect this change and update curriculums so that students can learn from and resonate with what they’re reading.