Equity & Diversity Opinion

Why You Really, Absolutely Shouldn’t Change the English Curriculum

By Christina Torres — May 17, 2019 5 min read
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Guest Post by senior high school student Kaitlyn C.

To Whom It May Concern:

Hello and good day. My name is Kaitlyn C, and today it is my pleasure to announce to you that we definitely do not need any changes to our English curriculum.

I should know, because last year I did a study in which I looked at 174 of the authors taught at my high school and wrote a report about them. Now, that report is long, and nobody likes reading, so I will instead summarize and highlight a few statistics for you now.

  • Of the 174 authors, 67 (38.5%) were women.

    • 50.8% of the U.S. population is female, as well as 49.4% of my school’s students.

  • Eight authors were Latinx. Eight of 174 is 4.6%, as opposed to the current U.S. Latinx population of 17.8% (and growing) nationwide.

  • Regarding indigenous authors, perhaps that is a misnomer, since “authors” is plural, and there was only one.

    • (Though having anyone is surprising enough, given this nation’s history of colonization and disenfranchisement toward the people who were here first and are now a minority that make up a mere 2% of the U.S. population.)

  • Also out of that same 174, three (1.7%) were Asian, compared with a national 5.7% and a schoolwide 16.3%.

    • Forgive me, I must correct myself here—that number isn’t actually three, since two of them are no longer taught, and the third has one single short story in one of the smallest classes offered at my school. So to compensate, let’s do as the curriculum does and count Ken Liu as half a person, bringing that figure to 0.3%.

Now, I know that sounds bad. But it’s actually very good! Because it means that my expectations were fulfilled. And as we all know, the purpose of conducting studies is to be correct. And so if we changed our curriculum’s demographics, I would be wrong. And I don’t want to be wrong. So pretty please don’t add any nonwhite, noncisgender, nonstraight, nonmale authors to our curriculum. Because then I would be wrong.

How did I know that I would be absolutely correct, that I would find such monochromatic monotony? Well, it’s because I, a queer Asian woman, already know that straight white males deserve to be talked about the most because they are the most important people. I know this because it’s what TV told me. And movies. And games. And books.

See, representation doesn’t matter because fiction has no impact on reality. The Jungle had absolutely nothing to do with the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Administration Act, as that legislation was clearly a result of the United States deciding it wanted to try not poisoning its citizens for a change [see also: Flint, Mich.]. 1984 is in no way a commentary on the totalitarian state and the relationship between so-called “protection” and privacy and is most certainly not relevant at all in this day and age because it’s a book and its characters are fake. Also George Orwell is dead, and if he were truly right, he would have found a way to live somehow.

Ignore the numerous studies describing how media can affect our lives, how we connect to characters and can use stories as ways to reflect and think about ourselves and what it means to be human. They’re all part of the government’s scheme to make us believe the conspiracy that women, persons of color, and queer people are real.

So, I would like to take the time to commend our English curriculum for embracing this important truth—that select groups of people are inherently worth more than others—with its selection of authors. And I would also like to commend it for the way it presents these authors and their works to students.

Because the context of an author only matters when it doesn’t promote a certain agenda. Showing our students media with queer characters will make them gay, just as we all know that showing queer students straight media will fix their identities and return them back to normal, and showing them a chicken will make them wake up clucking in the morning.

I applaud our classes for neglecting to mention Walt Whitman’s gayness while discussing “O Captain! My Captain!,” because that would cause students to think more thoroughly about the poem and its deeper meanings, and to actually analyze it. Because one of our librarians would be loathe to upset the mainstream in a book talk, and therefore they know that the best way to present Celie and Shug Avery’s relationship to students who’ve never read The Color Purple before is as a “close female friendship.” And just like best friends, they even have explicit sex. Several times. Because that’s what good friends do.

Because it definitely doesn’t leave any sort of lasting impact whatsoever when you systematically deny a person’s validity and existence time and time again.

We study literature in order to help our students, the future generations, develop their values and morals and better understand the world. What kind of a message does it send when we have characters who aren’t stale, pale males? Heaven forbid that our children get it into their minds that women aren’t all damsels in distress, that not every black man is a sexual predator, or that queer people aren’t atrocities. But luckily, we still have things like the gender pay gap, racial stereotypes, and Supreme Court cases debating the legality of discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk to make sure that little Jimmy grows up right.

Why bother trying to change the curriculum, an exhausting ordeal, an action that would take time and effort, that would demonstrate listening and understanding, when we can instead maintain the status quo? Why bother trying to include more women authors to reflect the fact that more than half of the global population is female, when that would imply that women deserve to be on equal footing with men? Why try to empathize with queer students when we can instead confirm every moment of self-doubt and self-loathing they’ve ever had about their identity and existence?

Why not save ourselves the work and just do nothing?

Not to mention, by leaving the English curriculum as it is, we won’t have to deal with the difficulty of pronouncing such exotic names as Sei Shonagon, or Jorge Luis Borges, or Viet Thanh Nguyen, or Zora Neale Hurston. Instead, we can read books by John Steinbeck, or John Bunyan, or John Irving, or Jonathan Swift. Or John Cheever, or John Corey Whaley, or John McPhee. One can never have enough Johns, after all.

So I beseech you—please do not change the English curriculum. Because then women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community would think that they actually mattered.

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.