It’s time for inclusive curriculum in our classrooms

Caroline Scharf

During my freshman year, I had to face a startling fact: 15 years of my life had passed before one of my English teachers required a book written by a non-white author. Until that moment, all of my classes had stuck to the classics: novels by the same straight, white men whose voices have been amplified for centuries. However, after a national outcry from the Black Lives Matter movement this past year, many teachers and students have been pushing for a more diverse curriculum in their classrooms. As the U.S. faces a racial reckoning, it is important for inclusive material to be taught in classrooms in order to promote awareness of other perspectives and social issues.

According to the United States Census Bureau, non-Hispanic white students now make up only 51.9 percent of all students enrolled in school. However, this diversity is not represented in lesson plans, where English classes across the nation revolve around an overwhelming number of books written by white authors. Even Redwood is not exempt from this level of curriculum cherry picking, with only five out of the 17 assigned books in English 3-4 written by authors of color. Since the only required texts in our English curriculum are Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth,”  this biased selectivity is even more obvious as some teachers prefer to teach older and more academically accepted literature.

Illustration by Kayln Dawes

Diversity shouldn’t be enforced solely to meet a quota either; when implemented correctly, it has a profound impact on students. It is no surprise that we are naturally more engaged when we are shown relatable stories about our own culture in our classrooms. According to a 2018 New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development analysis, student engagement in classrooms increases in literature and history lessons when students feel the content reflects their identity. Inclusive material in classrooms helps students learn better and also opens the door for them to have their stories heard by their teachers and classmates.  

Not only does material from varying perspectives help students relate to their material, but it also allows for impactful conversations about the world. According to Erin N. Winkler, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin, prejudice can be reduced in children if they are taught more complex ways to think. When children are taught to look at various aspects of people rather than just their race, their bias is reduced. 

We need to highlight novels that show diverse stories because they allow for more conversations about historically ignored perspectives as white supremacy continues to rise in the country. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist propaganda distribution tripled from 2017-2018. It’s important to educate students about cultural differences in order to foster a new generation of empathy and tolerance.

Despite these facts, some individuals, including teachers, believe that California has taken sufficient action to push for diversity. In 2016, California introduced the Assembly Bill AB 2772 that would make ethnic studies courses a requirement for students’ graduation. Despite gaining support from many educators who felt that the passage of this legislation was monumental, some minority groups, such as Jewish and Korean residents, expressed discontent with the bill and claimed it inadequately represented these groups and their histories. 

In response to the criticism, Gavin Newson vetoed this bill, calling it “insufficiently balanced and inclusive.” While this proposed piece of legislation was a step in the right direction, classrooms should not be relying solely on the government legislature for enforcement of diversity. Instead of confining teachers to specific government standards, these bills need to support teachers and their efforts to improve inclusivity, not create one standard of diverse teaching. To make inclusivity as effective as possible, teachers and school administrations should be taking initiative to provide diversity in their schools to create a more personal and welcoming setting for their students.

My freshman English class introduced me to stories of various perspectives for the first time. If my teacher had not taken the initiative to assign a diverse curriculum, I wouldn’t have taken the time to listen to various perspectives in literature. For the benefit of future generations, our curriculum needs to start reflecting the unique diversity of our country.