Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dead White Guys' Society

As I sit down to write, I have a request. Can one of my gentle readers please bring a soapbox over? 

Yes, I'm getting on it one more time.

You see, I just saw my daughter's Honors 12 English reading list.

The good news is that it will be the last time I rant and rave about authors who are — and more significantly — are not on the list. After all, as of next fall, she'll be at college where, in theory at least, there will be greater choice and greater diversity in courses and curriculum. In theory. I'll stay optimistic. In theory.

There's bad news too though. I think the rigid, antiquated, primarily white, primarily Euro, and primarily — almost entirely — male collection of "classic" authors she has been forced to read over her high school career has effectively turned off her brain. Truth. I'm sure you think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. My darling daughter, who used to enjoy nothing more than browsing through Barnes & Noble, hasn't picked up a book voluntarily in years.

I've written about this before. Twice

Guess what? Until it changes, my observations bear repeating.

Take a look at the list of required reading for senior year Honors English (and, remember that it's 2015 and the class is 75% girls):

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, dead white guy. 

Oedipus & Antigone by Sophocles, dead white guy. 

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, dead white guy. 

The Prince by Niccol√≤ Machiavelli, dead white guy. 

Othello by William Shakespeare, dead white guy. 

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, dead white guy. 

The Stranger by Albert Camus, dead white guy. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka, dead white guy. 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, living Middle Eastern woman.

Waitaminute! What ... ?

Before I hail progress (no matter how statistically insignificant it is), I'll add two facts. One, my daughter already read Satrapi's brilliant graphic novel when she was in middle school. And, two, the class has already been warned that if they run out of track (as graduating classes are wont to do), Persepolis is the title that will be cut.

Aye, there's the rub.

I'm not criticizing the inclusion of any of the above. (Although, I'll boldly assert that some of them are deadly dull.) It's the lack of other, worthy, more relevant, more representative titles that gets my goat.

Assuming that the kids don't actually get to or through Persepolis, my daughter will have graduated high school, after four years of Honors and AP English, having read masterpieces by approximately forty dead white guys and one ... one ... that would be just one, single, sole and only woman ...

Ayn Rand.

WTF? Please. I'm serious. WTF?

Even if you aren't as feminist-focused as myself, you have to admit that including more contemporary titles would help engage contemporary teens. Even if you don't see any value in presenting a more diverse set of voices (note the sarcasm here, by all means), even if you personally prefer literature by dead white guys, you have to appreciate that giving kids something interesting to read would ... well ... better capture their interest. 

Today's teens are tired enough. They don't need 600-page tranquilizers.

That's why God invented Ambien.

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