Opinion: As student population evolves, so too should literature curriculum

(Knight Crier/ Opinion)- EVALUATING THE BOOKS WE READ: When the majority of books in our English curriculum are written from a white perspective this hinders the ability to enrich all students understanding of different cultures.

Yamuni Kaijumi

(Knight Crier/ Opinion)- EVALUATING THE BOOKS WE READ: When the majority of books in our English curriculum are written from a white perspective this hinders the ability to enrich all student’s understanding of different cultures.

Opinions expressed in the Op/Ed section of The Knight Crier are not necessarily reflective of the views of the entire staff of the KC.

Is it necessary to include classic works of literature in our English curriculum simply because they are considered “classics?”

I do enjoy reading classical literature because the pieces are considered to be well written even in our current time period, and they address universal human concerns, but these pieces of literature are so often written from one perspective – a white. male author. 

Our classrooms are filled with students from all over the globe and as a district, it is our responsibility to make sure students feel at home in North Penn despite their background.

I understand that our district is trying to make an effort to include more books by authors of color in the English curriculum, but as a student in the classroom, I don’t believe the recent changes to the English curriculum were enough in representing students from various backgrounds. 

Certainly, it is important to recognize that the district has made efforts, as Director of Curriculum and Equity Dr. Pamula Hart notes. 

“I feel like the secondary English curriculum has made great strides to include more voices within their literary selections.  However, we acknowledge nothing is perfect. The balance today is much better than it was in the past.  We are hoping to continue to update our literature to reflect the voices of our changing student body while also keeping some literary classics so students are exposed to them at some point in their academic experience,” said Hart. 

As a student who has been part of this district from Kindergarten, I feel out of place in North Penn, especially in my AP Lang class. The major works of literature in our curriculum we have thus far studied are written by white male authors. 

It’s hard to feel a sense of belonging when the majority of what I’m reading is presented from a white perspective. I don’t feel like my cultural background is being represented and I doubt I am the only student feeling this way as the majority of the students in my class are also people of color. 

“I personally do believe we need more books by authors of color in our curriculum because I think it will broaden our perspectives of many ethnicities. Especially with our current issues of racism and discrimination, I think reading books from different backgrounds is a great way to show unity, especially when all English classes are required to read books by authors of color,” said junior Jiya Patel. 

English is one of the few subjects that allow students to express themselves authentically and learn from the experiences of others. It has the potential to connect students to their own cultures while also fostering a sense of belonging in our community.

“I do believe it is important to have students’ cultures represented in the books we read because not only does it make it easier for the students to connect to the story but also understand the message from the author. I know that any time I read any book or works of literature that reflects on my culture, even if it is only a small mention, it definitely catches my attention and I can make connections,” explained Patel. 

The English curriculum in this district needs to be adjusted to reflect the diverse student population so that children and teenagers can see themselves reflected in the books they read.

“Besides the classic American Dream, Salem Witchcraft trials, Romanticism and minor focus on transcendentalism, we have read only a few pieces of literature from colored authors like “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by MLK, “Learning to Read and Write” by Federick Douglass and “Learning to Read” by Malcolm X. As an AP Lang student, I understand we need to read specific pieces of work for the curriculum, but I think we need to incorporate more novels and books written by different authors of color because it can definitely deepen our knowledge of different writing styles. I think it would also interest more students to read books that relate to their lives and culture,” added Patel. 

The main books included in the AP Lang curriculum at North Penn, which my class has read include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Crucible by Arthur Miller. During class, I hear many conversations between my peers about their dissatisfaction with these books because it is hard to create a personal connection and I agree with these statements. 

North Penn needs to continue to evaluate their English Curriculum with an eye toward a more diverse student body, while being culturally respectful. It’s important that all students feel culturally represented when issues like discrimination and racism pollute our society. The new generation of students entering our district is more diverse than past generations and our English curriculum needs to be a reflection of this increasing diversity.