The Necessity for Diversity in High School Texts
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
By Arlene Nagtalon
Image via Iris Reading
If you were to ask students of all ages, “Do you like school?” more than likely, you’d be met with responses of “Ew, gross,” or “No, why?” For someone who’s enjoyed learning from a young age, I can truthfully say that my liking of American high school has decreased as I’ve risen through grades. As a senior in high school, a twelfth grader, not only does the content in nearly every class seem to be less and less relevant, but how do you expect kids to be interested in learning about impractical topics like the Pythagorean Theorem and find ways to use that in our daily lives? Not to mention that the curriculum has become more and more outdated, using the same teaching methods that trace back to the Industrial Revolution, which includes copying by example and regurgitating facts. School seems like it’s preparing its students less and less for what the “real world” entails. It’s pretty ironic considering how we’ve advanced so far in technology to continue the school year at home amidst a global pandemic, yet the same teaching methodologies are still in use when they should become obsolete.
However, when it comes to the traditional high school experience, most people remember the same classic novels we were required to read in our English classes. Sure, studying the timeless To Kill A Mockingbird should not be a matter of debate because its themes on racism and coming-of-age are applicable to all ages, but do novels like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby fall into that perpetual group of texts? In this article, I’ll be going over some of my reasonings as to why public American high schools shouldn’t have to put up with reading the same texts as our parents, grandparents, and older generations have. Due to a lack of diverse perspectives from women, BIPOCs, and the LGBTQIA+ community, an arousal of controversial topics, and the significance of censored texts -- as well as Trump’s 1776 Commission -- more than ever is it necessary to shift from a euro-centric to a diversified education system, especially here in the United States.
“History is HERstory, too” may be a common, but truthful phrase. Over time, we’ve seen more and more historical documents, art, and texts written by predominantly male authors. In the broadway musical Hamilton, this is illustrated through the titled character Hamilton not only writing fifty-one of the Federalist Papers, but Eliza Hamilton burning her love letters, thus, “removing herself from the narrative.” However, why is it that we read more texts written by men? When will we hear from female voices that have either been silenced or censored from education? Due to the adherence of gender norms back in the day, sure, women may not have been able to voice their opinions as freely as they do now. Nonetheless, the American education system continues to uphold these outdated values by not implementing modern-day texts written by great female writers with empowering female protagonists that save the day, rather than being saved. A great example of this would be the classic Frankenstein, written by author Mary Shelley. Even with the paraphernalia of comic books, costumes, and other reproductions of merchandise, it baffles me that many don’t realize that the monster that came back from the dead was imagined by the mind of a great female thinker. Although the novel is a difficult one to read due to its ‘old time’ language, as a text that many read as a college student, her theme revolving around the consequences of a God-complex after Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster of the dead is one that is still relevant today. Other great perspectives by women should be put forth into circulation, especially with female empowerment being one of the great themes of 2020. Schools should be teaching their students about great figures, men and women alike, to remove the stigma that women will only be seen as inferior to men.
BIPOCs also have their fair share of stories they want to tell, so what better place to do it than schools, where the diversity in demographics are becoming increasingly prominent? Europe’s constant need for colonization grew into eurocentrism, which eventually paved the way for minorities today to be angry at their destructive ways, methodologies that removed their place to learn about their own culture and identity at schools. Haven’t you ever wondered why AP European History is an actual subject, rather than AP Asian, Latin, or African History? Why is it that we read stories through the eyes of white protagonists that often face issues we don’t relate to now? Rather than reading The Great Gatsby’s story of a fading American Dream, it’d be more impactful and inspiring to hear about the experiences of teenage immigrants struggling to make it in the United States. People often say that America is a nation built by immigrants, so it’s time we acknowledge that and thank them for their commitment to our country. That way, we’ll be able to connect with characters our age that face similar problems to what we have in the present. Not to mention that hearing these stories from other perspectives allows us to build empathy towards those ethnic groups, which would answer our questions about their culture. Also, a better understanding of who they are will provide a newfound appreciation towards diversity, allowing for a xenophobic-proof learning environment in which students from all backgrounds can thrive and fulfill their true potential.
Anyone part of the LGTBQIA+ community or those who ally with them would surely have their stories to tell, especially now. Despite the legalization of same-sex marriage back in 2015, homophobia is still running rampant in our society, whether it be out in the streets or on various social media platforms. Even with more and more people coming out of the closet, these personal situations are challenging for those coming from traditional, conservative backgrounds that are afraid of these different sexualities. Fear of rejection from friends, family, and loved ones often stands in the way for many to come out, as well as a lack of support to embrace their real selves. However, many teenagers are impacted, with the average coming-out age changing from 25 in 1991 to 16 in 2010, according to a study conducted by ScienceDaily.com. These are the same people who find themselves face-to-face with challenging conversations, not knowing what the outcome will be after revealing themselves to those they care about most. Still, if people can easily be inspired by others who have undergone these same trials, maybe that’s just the push they need to gain that necessary courage. Maybe, an example is all someone needs to even mutter the words, “I’m __________.” if their self-doubt decides to take over. With books being read about the LGBTQIA+ community and the struggles of learning about your own gender identity, the topic can be further normalized without any stigma attached. If it’s already 2020, we should be more than happy to welcome people with open arms as they mustered up the courage to accept the unique beings they are.
The turbulence and emergence of social issues that envelops this day and age is everywhere we turn. It may have started with the changes that took place due to COVID-19 back in March, but with the death of George Floyd in May followed by numerous acts of police brutality and the wrongful, racist killings of the Black community, protests occurred worldwide to defund the police and to show that Black lives matter. Gen Z is no stranger to constant, never ending chaos and violence, especially when it comes to murders becoming a commonplace action.
We’ve grown so accustomed to cruelty that our indifference for yet another dead body shows in our emotionless actions to repost the same information circulating on Instagram regarding the cause. However, there is so much more we can do besides swiping on our feed and standing by in the background. History is happening all around us, so schools should take the initiative and implement these occurrences into the books we read. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a great example of a novel that not only deals with difficult topics of racism, poverty, crime, and injustice, but allows for the teenage reader to place themselves into the shoes of Starr Carter, a Black high school student. Studying life-changing novels regarding everyday crimes could be the spark that lights anger within readers to become social activists themselves, inspiring them to be the change in their community and the world.
Censored texts have a place in schools and shouldn’t be taken away, despite their “radical” teachings. Books like 1984 by George Orwell should be considered in classrooms to have students think of what life would be like living in a dystopian society. Furthermore, they’d be left to question whether or not America is slowly becoming a controlling government, and if so, what the steps would be to stop our nation from reaching that point. Novels about dystopias allow us to see our own society in a new light as we compare it to the world today. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is another book that was commonly banned during the year of its publication back in 2009. Its recurring themes of suicide, substance abuse, and sexual abuse often offended the masses who didn’t take it in for the masterpiece it is. TPOBAW’s focus on various taboo issues allows us to see the accurate survivor-hood portrayed whenever Charlie, the main protagonist, deals with panic attacks, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, depersonalization, and depressive tendencies. The mental health stigma today may be a cause that is battled through various efforts, but books that tell even fictional stories of survivor stories from other traumas contribute to normalizing the need to reach out for help.
Lastly, Trump’s ‘1776 Commission’ serves as more reason as to why diversity of high school texts should be essential as opposed to an already-established privilege. Our president’s nationalistic values shouldn’t undermine the pride that most of us have as American citizens. However, even if the history of the United States is worth defending, it shouldn’t become the basis of our school’s curriculum that doesn’t acknowledge other ethnicities' efforts in making our country what it is today. Not to mention that history books do a great job at whitewashing the stories they tell, completely ignoring the perspectives and viewpoints of other races. It’s great for our nation to feel proud to be Americans, but paying respects to those who have played their part is extremely overdue, and it’s time we recognize this fact, starting in schools.
The United States is a nation known for its melting pot of cultures, diversity, traditions, and ethnicities, so it's time we learn and gain a better understanding and appreciation for our fellow peers and colleagues. Everywhere you go, people of different backgrounds should be living together in harmony. But with xenophobia plaguing society, hate crimes against one another are happening almost on a daily basis. Coexisting may be the ultimate goal that seems unattainable, but by noticing these common disparities all around us, we can learn and obtain something more meaningful than a diploma after these four crucial years of high school.
Written by writer Arlene Nagtalon