CHICAGO – Chicago area schools are replacing white male authors on student reading lists with minority and women authors who delve into themes like power, justice, humanity and social responsibility.
“I think yes, book lists in schools are sexist, but I don’t think it’s the school’s fault,” senior Sarah Eiden told the Gapers Block Book Club blog. “I think it’s because we still think good literature is only written by white males, which simply isn’t true. I do see though that teachers are trying to change that.”
New Trier High School English teacher Scott Campbell is among them.
“When we think about summer reading books or adding a new book to a course, we’re often looking for woman or people of color,” he told the site.
It’s some teachers’ way of countering the prevalence of white male authors who penned classics like “The Great Gatsby,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Of Mice and Men,” Campbell said.
“Women a hundred or so years ago were not encouraged or expected that they might write, so we’re left with literature that seems unbalanced and institutionalized, almost in the way we talk about racism,” he said.
“Women haven’t been championed as writers generally,” Campbell said. “This is just one of the after-effects of male domination.”
John Hancock College Prep English teacher and curriculum coordinator Natalie Garfield seems to share Campbell’s perspective.
She hunts out books that are “more culturally relevant” to students at the school than classic books written by white male authors.
“At the end of their high school career, a kid can pick up any new book and potentially have been exposed to anything like it based on the wide spectrum of texts we offer here,” Garfield told Gapers Block. “(You) make changes and reflect the times and kids in front of you.”
Those changes include books like “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which is actually a fictionalized story about a 14-year-old Native American teen that attends a mostly white high school with themes of alcoholism, sexuality, violence and bullying, according to the blog.
Other titles like “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” focuses on gang life, unemployment, drug addiction, incarceration and suicide.
“But in the end, it’s a positive, uplifting story of a man who realizes his potential as a Chicano activist and artist and manages to turn his life around,” Gapers Block reports. “This book gives readers a raw look at what it meant to be Latino in Los Angeles during the ‘80s and how community involvement can truly impact marginalized groups.”
Some student told the site they appreciate that teachers are catering reading lists to their culture by replacing books written by white male authors with minority-penned prose.
Hancock senior Lisseth Perez said books on Hispanics offered in the past are from a white person’s perspective.
“We come from a Hispanic culture, but enven when they give us ‘Hispanic books,’ it’s more like, just Hispanic people trying to fit into a white community,” Perez said. “It’s the same book over and over: Hispanic kid wants to go into the white community and not get looked down upon.”
It’s the same story with women, Hancock junior Sandra Rodriquez told Gapers Block.
“These books just talk about men and men and men. And they never actually show women actually doing something,” she griped. “You have to read something you feel good about.”