• Lyla Bollag

Spring Cleaning For the English Curriculum

I worked with a family friend, Jill Littlestein, who is a working artist and feminist in her mid-60’s on art. We discussed my summer reading mandatory books: Lord of the Flies (1954) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), and how unappealing they were at this time. She told me, “C’mon? Again with the old white men from the 1900s? Wow, they need to update the books and provide more diversity.” Jill was born in the mid-1950s and she opinionated on many ideals and lived through many historical events. To have her Baby Boomer opinion of these titles agree with my GenZ ideal was interesting. My generation doesn’t usually flock to these older books, thus lacking interest in writing related to these old texts. According to a recent web article, “70-75% of kids fail to write proficiently” (Making Writing a Priority). So many kids in schools lack the writing skills to produce efficient writing. As seen with this number, it’s big. According to the article, teachers are not assigning as many writing assignments as in the past, which is the current problem we are facing. Why is this? In general, English curriculums study books from the past, many of which are written by old white men. Rarely do we see contemporary books written into essays, and more so seldom, contemporary books are written by people of color. Topics of these books range in social-historical and political issues of their day. The current majority of youth do not relate to these past events. My generation did not experience the World Wars, women’s suffrage, The Great Depression, etc... These books are primarily based around white male protagonists, are read through the white male eye, and portray women as second-class citizens or eye candy. Currently, in English curriculums, there are very few books that include people of color and their history, civil rights, mental health, LGBTQ+ content, etc...“It’s been more than 50 years since literacy experts first stressed the need for more diverse books in the classroom, and yet reading lists look surprisingly the same as they did in 1970” (Hooked on Classics). Our English reading lists are very similar to those from fifty years ago. When the curriculum is similar, if not the same as it was in the past, teens will not be as interested or motivated to write and learn. The older books can be great and they give us an outlook on the past, but if the central focus revolves around these older texts, they can backfire on what the objective of the class is. “[It] reveal[s] how educators aren’t equipped for that change” (Hooked on Classics). The initial objective of the class is to teach kids about the world and history through a literary format, to practice various types of literacy, but when the book choices remain stagnant, the class itself is not growing, changing, or evolving. It’s reiterating the same message, over and over again, as it did fifty-plus years ago. If English teachers do not update or change their curriculum, kids will not absorb the necessary information to grow as people.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jill.“Hooked on Classics.” Harvard Ed Magazine, 2019, Harvard.edu.

“Making Writing Instruction a Priority in Americas Middle and High School..” All4Ed, 2021, all4ed.org.