The divide between teachers and students on how FUSD’s reading list is evolving to teach anti-racism and diversity in English classes
Recently, a new district core adoption committee consisting of four American teachers was formed to adopt new books to the FUSD’s reading lists. As some students may have noticed this year, antiracist literature has been incorporated in some of their English classes. These books are compelling, contemporary stories highlighting the importance of antiracism. Books like How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The book Between the World and Me is actually one Mrs. Redd, a 10th and 12th grade English teacher, hopes to add to the FUSD English curriculum as a member of the new district core adoption committee.
“[The district core adoption committee is] trying to wake up the literature, we’re talking specifically about antiracist literature that deals specifically with racism as we understand it now. And that definition has changed over the course of my life and what I was taught in high school. I can see the change of the past 20 years and we need to update this.” Mrs. Redd explains the goal of the district core adoption committee. “It can’t be that we just have books by authors of color, which is important, but [also] that the narratives are taking apart power structures and working towards a more equitable environment instead of just cheerleading for people.”
However, some students like Dhruv Gautam, question the effectiveness of contemporary antiracist literature.
“I think the district should focus on finding books that reflect on our history, and not on current events. Because books on current events have their significance. But books on history have set precedent for ideas that have been integrated into society right now. And I feel learning from history is a lot more clear and serves the purpose of trying to get anti racist literature out there. Something from 2019 just doesn’t have the same effect as reading something from Martin Luther King Jr, or something like that” Gautam comments.
Other students like Katherine Dyuzba (11) also feel conflicted on how antiracism is taught in the classroom, worrying that a single book may not be able to cover the complexity of racism.
“I feel like the idea of the basis of antiracism is something that should be explored more throughout our curriculum. [But] I don’t know if just having a single book on it would be a good idea because it’s a little bit too general and too vague and also it can be brushed off because
if you don’t like the book, you’re not going to like antiracism.” Dyuzba comments.
Plans for the antiracist curriculum are still unknown, but Dyuzba has some ideas.
“I like the idea of having stories in our curriculum that depict various cultural aspects of various people from different backgrounds or stories that show different ways of life. I think that would show a better way of unity of cultural unity and going to understand other perspectives and other cultures, I think that would be better in terms of antiracism than to focus on just the definition of antiracism or how you can fight antiracism I think we just need to learn more about other cultures to be more accepting.” Dyuzba shares.
Junior Anika Aggarwal (11) also feels that diverse books should be included in supplemental reading lists, not just antiracist literature.
“A majority of the books that we read are by cisgendered male white Christian authors… there’s not a lot of diversity. And honestly, even with female authors there’s [very few]” Aggarwal notes.
Aggarwal comments how diversity in classrooms is important for students, especially at American. Currently, only 1 out of 10 core novels is written by an author of color despite American having a large percentage of Asian students.
“Since FUSD itself and American is quite diverse, if diverse individual sees it from the white male kind of perspective, I think it causes kind of a discourse or schism in terms of like people connecting with the identity of the average person, because each person’s perspective, experiences, and views are all quite varied. Like, even sometimes I don’t really connect with what an author is trying to say, or an author’s experience.”
Dyuzba also disagrees with Mrs. Redd about not needing more diversity in authors believing the books we read should reflect our diverse student body.
“It’s really important that all of us are represented in our own way. And it’s really important for all of our stories to be shared, and for everyone to have something to relate to inside of their education. So I think that’s just really important just to have a very diverse background, and also it’s wonderful to inform more people about different cultures and different aspects of people’s lives that they might not have been aware of” Dyuzba says.
Gautam believes that besides having diverse books in terms of race, FUSD should add more books with different perspectives instead of just focusing on antiracist literature.
“I think it’s important because not everyone is going to relate to every single book. Personally, I didn’t relate to some books from 9th grade and 10th grade, but certain books I related to. And it wasn’t necessarily just because the author was a certain race, but it was more because they have a diverse standpoint, like from where they come from in the world. So I think it’s important to just have a variety of standpoints in the reading list because you can’t just have a student read similar things and expect them to get good results” Gautam says.
Currently, the core reading list has not been updated since 2017 which has caused a bit of discussion on whether these books should be changed.
“I think every year we have good books, but I feel like it’s not extensive enough. The books need to apply to a lot more different things. I feel like they tread over the same grounds too much. And that’s kind of my main opinion on the books, the mandatory ones at least” Gautam comments.
However, in regards to the core reading list Gautam does not believe the current books need to be replaced.
“I feel like if anything they could add books. I don’t think they need to remove books, because all the books that I’ve read, except for Romeo and Juliet, every single other book deserved their spot” Gautam says.
Others, like Mrs. Redd, do not share the same thought and believe some books have been taught for too long.
“I remember that my own high school had been teaching in the sophomore year, A Tale of Two Cities for probably 15 years which I know because I am friends with my own high school English teacher and she complained about it. So, I would like to see the job that we’re doing here, and that Mr. Howard and Miss Wilkinson and Mrs. Thorsen all want to do is something that should probably actually happen all the time, every couple of years. We want to have a core but it can’t be a static core. It needs to be a conversation that’s always evolving” Redd says.
This disconnect between students’ and teachers’ opinions provides more uncertainty of the direction of FUSD’s reading lists, but hopefully concessions are made and they take both students’ and teachers’ opinions to create a more diverse and meaningful curriculum.