Opinion: A change in education — diverse books for diverse students 

Even as the world works towards a more progressive future, the sphere of education has yet to make significant steps towards progress. Literature choices are limited for students and require them to view our society through a certain lens — the lens of white men in particular. English classes need to diversify the literature that students are obligated to read.

“When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our difference and our similarities because together they are what makes us all human,” Rudine Sims Bishop, author of “Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom,” said.

Yet in the past 24 years, multicultural content only represents 13% of children’s literature, according to book publisher Lee & Low.

An increase in multicultural literature around the world can provide self-empowerment in students, cultural pluralism and fresh perspectives for students and teachers alike. Not only are people of different races, sexualities, religions, genders and other social stratifications necessary as characters in the novels we read, but focusing on how they act in relation to others and events provides an opportunity to examine different behaviors and characteristics across cultures.

“Multicultural literature can be used as a tool to open students’ minds,” Maria Boles from Eastern Michigan University wrote in her 2006 theses.

The benefits of diverse literature include the development of “facilitating empathy, increased knowledge of one’s own heritage and fostering positive self-concepts and identity,” Boles wrote in her theses at Eastern Michigan University.

We should not be bound by stories written only by white male authors. Our history shouldn’t be shaped by a single narrative of men and their quests. The limitations posed by the books we are required to read force a limited perspective of our society. These books don’t offer the same worth that they did for past generations.

Take for example William Shakespeare, the profound classical writer of tales that have been anchored in high school curriculums around the world. Although his writing illustrates the deepest art of classic literature, it is limited in the perspective that it provides for readers. We don’t need to completely take out these classics, but a balance in our literature is needed.

There are already actions being taken for this certain fight for diversity. Nonprofit organizations like We Need Diverse Books advocate for literature that studies the experiences of all readers from elementary to advanced levels using grassroots activism, according to Boles. She also confirmed that the school crowdfunding platform Donors Choose has pledged to donate their proceeds to provide diverse books to schools around the country.

Books that focus on the struggles of minority groups and the experiences that were considered undeserving of being told in the past are vital to our future. As a generation, we cannot justify reading the same uninspiring books year after year by insisting that they are classics. As a generation, we cannot promote threads of inclusion if we don’t diversify the books we read at school. Students will not be able to substantially think in the outside world if our thoughts are restricted in scope.

1 thought on “Opinion: A change in education — diverse books for diverse students 

  1. I agree, we need to diversify the book selections our students read throughout their school careers. I wonder, though, at the citation of William Shakespeare in this discussion of books. Shakespeare wrote plays, so, if naming him as an example, then isn’t the more direct corollary that students should read diverse plays and diverse books? Which I also agree with. That said, I think including Shakespeare’s plays in a broader reading regimen also provides students with a historical point of view from which to evaluate more diverse and contemporary works (and plays). I also believe that Shakespeare’s characters–as embodies by actors–offer us the opportunity to wrestle with grim facets of human nature in a fictional world, hopefully to the end that we wake up (as the events of this week have caused us to) and stop the bad behaviors to persuasively portrayed in them. I hope that one day the events of, for instance, OTHELLO do not resonate so realistically, that its themes and actions become almost unbelievable in a healed country in which racism is no longer the unspoken law of the land but something that we view with amazement that it could ever exist. Some day.

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