The Upper School English curriculum is so “Old School”

Courtesy of Barnes and Noble

Is the world we live in still dominated by white culture? The television and movie businesses are dominated by white actors, magazine covers and social media campaigns are dominated by white models, and don’t even get me started on our current government. This problem, unsurprisingly, is also present on our campus, specifically within the English department. People of color in America have been wrongfully stereotyped as people who are only really good at certain things. Black people are supposed to be great athletes and musicians, Asians are supposed to be really good at math and science, and Latinos are supposed to be good at doing the jobs that no one else wants to do. The English department perpetuates these stereotypes in teaching mostly works written by white males over those written by women and people of color.

While the books we read, some more than others, are of outstanding literary merit, they don’t reflect the Marlborough community. It is important to read novels and poems from the perspectives of people you can’t necessarily relate to, including works like The Catcher in the Rye, Old School and The Sense of an Ending, which are all about the problems privileged young white males faced in the mid-20th century. However, the English curriculum at Marlborough gets arguably whitewashed as students begin to enter their high school years. The list of books read by 8th graders from the 2013-2014 school year included novels featuring diverse characters written by a range of diverse authors such as  The House on Mango Street, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 50 percent of the books read are written by women and 50 percent of them are written by people of color, which is a significantly higher statistic than that of English 2, considering that only 1 book out of the 5 assigned in that class was written by a woman/person of color.

AP Literature is arguably the biggest perpetrator of this whitewashing out of all of the English classes available. The class is focused on British Literature; however, the syllabus only features white and mostly male British writers, completely disregarding talented British writers of color. The only time people of color were even mentioned in this class was when they were shown as minor characters in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as insubstantial, nameless, slave workers that were suffering at the hands of imperialism and the “white savior” complex. Typecasting is alive and well in Marlborough’s English curriculum, considering that black writers and characters are often only featured when it’s time to talk about the suffering they have endured due to oppression, as if black literature is one-dimensional and doesn’t offer anything more than that. Additionally, British Literature shouldn’t only include literature written by people from Great Britain. It should include writers from the many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America that were victims of British imperialism and can therefore offer a different but interesting and just as teachable take on it.

Some may think that a simple solution to this lack of diversity is offering multicultural and gender-related elective classes to seniors. While this is a valiant effort to improve the situation, it is far from being the solution. Elective is defined as “an optional course of study,” or in other words, not required. Offering classes that focus on the works of marginalized people as optional is a subtle way of declaring these works less important to learn. Additionally, these electives are only offered to seniors, meaning students may have to wait five years until they can get their hands on poems and novels that are written by women and minorities.

Too often in this country, marginalized people are unfairly placed into boxes and repeatedly told to stay in them. Less than 100 years ago, women gained the right to vote. Less than ten years ago, Americans elected their first black president. Less than a year  ago, the first female presidential candidate in the history of America won the popular vote by 2.9 million. The reason we were able to make amazing strides like these is because– for brief moments–we were able to relinquish our biases and realize that people, regardless of race or gender, can do whatever they put their mind to. In order to help everyone see this, there needs to be more representation of women and people of color in society, Marlborough English classes included.