When 'English' doesn't mean 'European': A diverse curriculum

June 8, 2011, 11:14 a.m. | By Claire Koenig | 11 years, 2 months ago

Literature in schools does not fully represent the diversity of American culture

The books that we see in the list of Nobel Prize winning literature are universally regarded as some of the most worldly, illuminating pieces of writing the human race has ever seen. They are novels that, according to Alfred Nobel's final will, "by virtue of their form and style, possess literary value."

But how is it that in this list of the world's most important books only five were written by African authors? Why in 109 years have only 12 women ever won? Why are the top 10 countries that have been awarded the prize for literary value all from Europe or North America?

This eurocentric view of the world, and the world's literature, has affected not only human culture, but modern education. As it is, the books many of Blair's teachers assign are not representative of all aspects of American culture and not relevant to our lives or our society today.

Teachers need to branch away from one-sided literature that has lost its controversy and cultural relevance and bring books into the classroom that will open diverse perspectives and opinions for students.

Students need to read literature from the perspectives of all races and walks of life. Well-written books that invite readers to step outside of their cultural comfort zones and learn something new about different types of people can dispel prejudice and racism through understanding.

By selecting books that accurately portray the traditions and hardships of a people, teachers can use literature to create a basic understanding of other cultures, and books in high school can lay a foundation of comprehension that can be built upon in years to come to create tolerance.

But expanding thought and broadening horizons aren't the only reasons to include different perspectives in classes.

Books that encompass and portray different races will connect to different students, and these connections made to course material could mean the difference between pass or fail, or a student who is encouraged to keep learning and reading and one who is not. This multicultural curriculum cannot be restricted to students in higher level classes, but must infiltrate all English classes from AP to ESOL so that everyone can benefit.

Diversifying literature in English classrooms would also lead to a wider range of writing styles to examine and controversial topics to discuss. Whereas many books written from a white perspective of slavery shed light on the issue, books written from the African American side clearly re-illuminate the topic.

This example can be applied to other areas as well, especially where current events are concerned. Literature by Islamic-American authors read in schools might lead to discussion of current events that allow students to form their own opinions and join the larger global conversation.

Literature in the English curriculum desperately needs more diversity - and no one understands this better than the head of Blair's English department, Vickie Adamson.

Adamson teaches a senior English class called American Studies, in which students examine literature written by American authors that illustrate the many diverse facets of our culture, spanning different races, time periods, places and cultural identities.

In Adamson's class, students are encouraged to discuss racism and other topics on a global scale and in their own lives. Senior Selena Wyborski said that the emphasis on different cultures in Adamson's class is important for teenagers as we form new opinions about the world. "Blair is a diverse school, but we're self-segregated," she said. "As we are forming perceptions about other people, it makes a big difference that we talk about them."

American Studies, however, is only one English class of dozens. Multicultural curricula need to infiltrate through the school, through the county and through the country if our generation is going to encourage more tolerance than those in the past.

Claire Koenig. More »

Show comments


No comments.

Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.