I didn’t quite mind reading Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in English class of my sophomore year, even though we had read Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” during English class of freshman year. I didn’t quite mind this year when we read two books from George Orwell in a row, those books being Animal Farm and 1984. What I did mind was that if I combined the books my class read in English class of freshman and sophomore year, only one author was a person of color and only one author was a woman. Is there an issue of not showing enough diversity through reading in our own classrooms?
While I enjoyed all of the books and plays read this year in my English class, I find it to be continuously closed-minded if most or all of what we read is from the point of view of a middle-aged white man. With the exception of A Thousand Splendid Suns, which was written by Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-born American, the curriculum of my English class only had authors who were white males. Not to mention that after asking around to students in other classes of what they read in their English class, I discovered no authors who weren’t a white male, with the exception of Hosseini. Then there were some teachers who didn’t even include him, leaving their entire curriculum with no authors of color or female authors.
Last year was not so different. Only one book my class read, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written by a woman–Harper Lee–but there were no authors of color. With the required curriculum including the Odyssey and “Romeo and Juliet”, we refuse to let old pieces of literature go because they still live on today as famous never-forgotten works. But why can’t we balance the old with the new? While it is important to keep classics in our curriculum because of its impact on our present, it’s not very smart to have more old literature than new, progressive literature. And instead of having the new be written by the same type of people–privileged–we should expand what we read and explore the point of view of someone who isn’t privileged. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the best example of what we should read more of in school; students got to take a close look at what third world countries are really like and the oppression that still goes on today. Not only was it filled with lessons and concepts about religion, Afghanistan, and war, but it was pure education about the world we currently live in. We will never receive that from Shakespeare or Homer. While these writers of intriguing literature that accurately and thoughtfully capture valuable lessons about tragic flaws, there are more lessons to be learned other than the unfortunate traits that can lead to one’s downfall. We see the calamitous outcomes due to hubris in the Odyssey, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Macbeth”. Yet I read all three between freshman and sophomore year even though they had the same lessons. When reading a book about oppression and violence in other countries, this simple act can stir up debates and make English class contribute to the view teenagers have on real world problems. While this class should involve studying techniques of writing and learning about literary devices, we can do that with a book that has a different point of view and we can additionally receive education on broader subjects than what we get from privileged writers.
Lastly, while English classes are supposed to open your mind up to ideas you’ve never thought of, they should also hold a sense of representation. I can’t stress how significant and necessary it is for representation to be included in everything possible, especially in school. For those students who aren’t white or aren’t males, why must they continuously read books written by their oppressor? Why must they constantly read from point of views that they can’t relate with? There are numerous reasons of why we need diversity in our classrooms, and we need to start speaking up to make changes happen.