It has been a long time since I was in high school but from what I remember the novels we studied in English class were all by white men. The single exception to that was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. We would read some other women in our textbooks that were basically excerpts of longer works or poems.
What Would I Choose To Teach High School Students?
I’m not a teacher but I think the following books would be better than the ones I remember reading.
Classics of English Literature
I remember reading Shakespeare and Dickens. I love Shakespeare but Dickens bores me to tears. I’d keep the Shakespeare and add in:
Full disclosure – I’ve never read Frankenstein so I don’t know if it is any good but it is foundational to a lot of novels coming later.
Austen is as much of a English classic novelist as Dickens. What was that? Boys won’t like reading about balls and engagements? Girls have been forced to read about Miss Havisham languishing away in a room because *gasp* a man didn’t want her. It’s time to give ol’ Great Expectations a rest.
Balance Out To Kill A Mockingbird
I love that book but now that we’ve read the story of southern racial relations from the point of view of a young white girl, let’s look at the other side. I propose:
It isn’t exactly the same time period but the narrators are about the same age. Besides, it is in verse and you know English teachers love that.
Throw Out Moby Dick
I do hate that book. I read every page of it but if I was teetering on the edge of not liking reading, that experience would have pushed me right over into book hatred. Why do we make kids read these books that are so boring? Let’s give them books that are interesting and yet still full of teachable moments. Once we don’t have to analyse all the symbolism in Moby Dick anymore there is plenty of time.
This is the story of a Native American teenager who decides to go to school outside of the reservation. This makes him an outsider to the people at his all white school and his peers on the reservation.
Parent Complaining Points – This is one of the most protested books around. It talks about masturbation. Oh my gosh! I bet teenagers would have never heard about that if they hadn’t read this book.
A teenage Indian dancer loses a leg in an accident. This is also written in verse and will teach kids about life in India.
This is a book about abuse and neglect and bullying. There is a lot to talk about here.
This is a nice introduction to fantasy set in Africa.
Parent Complaining Points – Oh I’d be run out of town for this one. One of the supporting characters is a women with two husbands. Polyamory in a school book! How dare we? It isn’t suitable for children. Of course they learn about the patriarchs and all their wives in Sunday School but that’s so different.
Twins are dealing with growing up and growing apart as their neighborhood is gentrified beyond recognition.
Let’s get some nonfiction in here too. Read this book about girls fighting to go to school so the kids feel bad every time they complain about having to do their schoolwork.
My classroom library for books not on the syllabus would have Daniel Jose Older and Alaya Dawn Johnson. There’d be copies of Ms. Marvel of course.
What would you have in your dream high school English classroom?