The classroom is cold and dingy. I shiver under the low lights, hands trembling as they thumb across pages in the textbook. It’s pretty early in the morning and, to be honest, I really don’t want to be here. Summer enrichment is great and all, but for a class that focuses solely on reading and writing, I think I already have the upper-hand. Nevertheless, I yawn and zone in on the story we’ve been assigned to analyze. After a few moments, a student asks my teacher about what types of books we’ll be reading throughout the school year. My teacher begins running a list off her fingertips, then explains why she chose the books she did for our summer reading assignment. One of them was simply because it’s a historic bildungsroman. The other novel, The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Diaz, for an even simpler reason.
She says, “All you read in school are written by dead, straight white men.”
The five kids aside from me in the class nod and agree eagerly, though all of them are white, too. While the teacher begins diving into her lecture, I find myself stumbling upon a realization I’ve kept concealed for too long: Most high school education boards mandate works solely authored by white men for AP English curriculums, whereas the College Board’s AP exams are known to throw in wild-card questions using texts from diverse writers, concepts pulled from multicultural stories. Thus, high school isn’t preparing us to it’s greatest ability for the AP exam. We are shortsighted, assigned boring, bland books from boring, bland writers. The lack of diversity in our english curriculums not only hurts female, queer, or colored students emotionally, but overall hurts the entire class because they are left without words by the time the AP exam rolls around.
The lack of diversity in high school curriculums has been a hot-topic issue for a while now, but mostly because it hurts and emotionally. When queer, female or colored students fail to find themselves in their assigned readings, they begin to lose their confidence. They only see themselves as minor characters, blips in the more important lives of white, straight men. They doubt their importance, their identities feeling less and less real. In 2016, Yale’s student body petitioned a core aspect of their English major department, “The Major English Poets sequence”, to “decolonize.”
“A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity,” the petition reads. “The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color. When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong.”-Yale’s Daily News
Moreover, the lack of diversity in the English curriculum is not only detrimental to queer or female students and students of color on an emotional basis, but is also a major roadblock when it comes to studying for the AP exams- whether that be AP English Language or AP Literature. Judging from personal experience, the College Board loves to throw in slightly obscure questions that don’t necessarily focus on the core of the curriculum; this includes questions and analysis responses based on multicultural texts. Yet still, most high schools fail to implement a multicultural curriculum. According to Verde Magazine, “Of all the required reading books in the Palo Alto Unified School District, only “To Kill a Mockingbird,” written by Harper Lee, a white woman, is not written by a white man.” Furthermore, according to The Alan Review, “The NCTE and IRA Standards 1 and 2 ( 1996 ) recommend that ‘Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world”; they also suggest that “Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.”
Overall, it is clear that most high school English curriculums failing to implement a multicultural curriculum not only injures students emotionally, but also academically as they do not provide ample preparation for the AP English exams. As Verde Magazine puts it, “Even if students are able to read more diverse books outside of school, there is a difference between reading for fun and the type of reading students do for classroom assignments. Reading for class requires students to search for symbols, motifs and themes and analyze them effectively. By reserving this analytical treatment for books written by the same type of authors, the educational system is prioritizing those voices over that of others.”