The importance of diversity in literature education

The new English 10H book selections foster acceptance within the classroom

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America is a grand mix of different ethnicities, cultures and perspectives that make the country one of the most diverse places on Earth. However, what I, and generations before me, have learned in the classroom could be described as exactly the opposite. “Catcher in the Rye,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Great Gatsby and many more novels starring White protagonists written by White authors are the classics that public schools push on every student. But this year, this outdated “tradition” has finally come to an end in RUHS’ English 10H summer reading selection. 

The new list includes contemporary novels such as “Dear Martin,” “Frankly in Love,” “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and more. This change has given students a chance to learn about different cultures, religions, ethnicities and sexualities from diverse characters introduced by authors who write from experience. 

As a privileged White student who lives in a mostly White community, I know I will never truly understand what it’s like to be in a minority. I will never truly understand the hardships that people of color face day to day, not only in how they are treated but also in what opportunities they are given. And with 2020 casting a bright spotlight on racial inequalities nationwide, teens need to be educated on the problems minorities everywhere are facing, and learn to not become a part of the problem. 

Research found in 2016 by Kristin Shutts, a psychologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has shown that the less exposure students have with people from other racial groups, the more likely they are to retain higher levels of prejudice as early as elementary school. Racial groups can also be applied to characters in novels, as they are written to reflect real experiences connecting to those of the author.

Research carried out by Scholastic also shows a sharp decline in reading outside of class after the age of eight, with a 10% drop since 2015 due to schoolwork pressure and other distractions. Children are rarely reading books out of class, again limiting what they come into contact with. This makes it the teachers’ responsibility to introduce students to diverse texts and points of view, for without this, students will lack cultural understanding and ignorance will breed intolerance. 

Now, some have said that it would have been better to stick with the classics, like “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Though this book does touch African-American oppression and the dangers of racism, we know that it could never fully convey the extent of the experiences African Americans faced, and still face, with discrimination in America. This is because it wasn’t written by an African American who has experience with these cruelties. It was written by Harper Lee, a White woman with White protagonists. 

I am not claiming the classics that were replaced were bad novels, and I am in no position to do so, but exposure to diversity in school curriculums is heavily needed. Diverse points of view not only educate those of us who are unfamiliar with different cultures and sexualities, but also give representation to those in the classroom who are. 

These novels are only a fraction of the stories all over the world that deserve to be heard and shared. It is our duty as students and members of a diverse society to educate ourselves on our differences, and that can all start in a high school classroom.