In Response to Teaching the Canon
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NOTE: Linked sources and more information are in column C-E. Sources and More Info
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ArgumentResponse
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"I loved reading ______ and learned a lot of life lessons from it."Great! Just because a book is "in the canon" doesn't mean that the book is bad or wasn't powerful. We're questioning why a list of books that are primarily written from the white, Western, male perspective are ones that we continually pull from, without perhaps asking if we could diversify or stray from that list. There's a lot of other perspectives out there to love that we're not exposing our students to in part because we weren't exposed to it.

We're exposed to valuable messages from white men in nearly every other medium. We can find valuable messages from other communities too, particularly to give to the next generation in a school setting.

What does it mean when there are only one or two texts from other perspectives in the TONS of reading we did in K-12? What message does that send about what kinds of people are likely to have valuable messages to pass along?
How Representation Affects StudentsWhy Diverse Books Matter
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"We can teach the canon and have more contemporary/'diverse' texts offered as recommended or optional reading."If the canon is historically white, male, and Western, what does it teach students about whose work deserves to be studied and valued by their teachers, and whose work is just "optional"? Relegating other perspectives to outside reading instead of taking the time in the classroom to dissect them with the same level of rigor and care as you would a text from the canon can send some problematic ideas regarding voice and value to students.
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"It's a classic! I read it when I was their age!”What exactly is this text bringing to our students? Is there another text from a different or previously unheard perspective that could also give that to our students? Should we really be reading the same text we’ve been teaching for ### years?

In addition, it would be good for ALL students to read about other perspectives and have them seen as equally "classic" or "canonical" as the white authors they're reading. What message does it send to students when they don't see many/any authors from a similar background refered to as "classic" or "one of the greats"? And what ideas does that reinforce to white students about whose voices matter and deserve study and understanding?

Why is it that traditional concepts "good writing" (by white people) asks POC/non-dominant groups to try and connect to their experience, but we can't ask the same of the hegemony? There's plenty of "good writing" by non-canonical authors that helps folks understand perspectives NOT widely seen.
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"Young Adult or contemporary literature isn't as good. The classics are classics because they're good." OR "Young Adult or Contemporary writing isn't as sophisticated as canonical texts."It's important to acknowledge that who gets published, promoted, and taught has been highly influenced by who was and is in power. People in power often decide who allowed to be published and taught, either by outright not publishing certain works (e.g. women have to write under male psedonyms), or making it hard to get access to those books when they were published (e.g. banning certain books from schools).

The concept of "classics" are a societal construct built on people in power deciding that it was worth study, and doesn't discount the fact that there were possibly other great books overlooked for other reasons. Why are we willing to accept authors like Hemingway or Cummings when they experimented with language, but assume that contemporary or young adult authors are not equally as brilliant when they do the same? And what does that teach students about what *they* are capable of in the future when they want to share their own voices

Also, young adult and contemporary literature is like ALL literature: some of it is really great, and some of it is not so great. Simply because there are a few examples of more lackluster young adult or contemporary literature doesn't mean that no good literature in those genres exist.
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"The goal of a literature course should be to teach literary analysis and critical reasoning skills. That means we need to choose texts that have the ideas and language for students to study. "There are *really good* pieces of literature from non-white/ non-canon/historically undervalued perspectives that are not only great reads but strong pieces of literature that can be used to teach those skills.

The assumption in this argument is that you can't use representative and diverse texts to teach literary analysis or skills, which appears to discount their merit simply because they're not "in the canon."
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"Literature courses need to prep students for cultural conversations around shared knowledge around 'the canon' texts that we all should know."This argument ignores the fact that, as educator Julia Torres, notes, "...it centers only SOME traditions and SOME shared knowledge... So, we need to all circle around whiteness and protect it by making sure kids learn MOSTLY about it for the sake of tradition?" This hardly seems fair, and its important to question why we don't place equal weight on the shared culture and knowledge of those outside of what is seen as "dominant culture."

In addition, there are ways you can introduce "foundational ideas" (which, again, hopefully questioning "whose foundation?") while pairing it with texts that may resonate more or provide a more enriched perspective to students. What if students read excerpts from "To Kill a Mockingbird" and compared it to their reading of "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky" or "Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice,"? Or read any number of fabulous texts from an author who was actually African (Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" is of course beloved, and I just read "Unbowed" by Wangari Maathai and loved it) and compared it to excerpts of Conrad's Heart of Darkness heart (hopefully Achebe's response too).

If we're willing to read these canonical texts and provide excerpts from "diverse perspectives," why can't we flip the script the other way?
Julia TorresAchebe's response to "Heart of Darkness"
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"Students should read texts and perspectives they may not choose on their own." There are other really powerful pieces of literature from non-white/ non-canon/historically undervalued perspectives that open up students to different styles of writing, historical periods, uses of language, or cultures they may not experience.

It's also beneficial to expose students not just to styles of writing or historical time periods they may not choose, but cultural perspectives they may not have encountered to better build empathy and open them up to understanding about people outside their own communities.
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"Students need a historical understanding of literature." or "Students need to engage with texts from the past to understand contemporary texts."Black, Latino, Asian, LGBTQ+, non-Western literature didn't JUST started existing. We, as a society, have had a lack of exposure and access to it. There are plenty of historical texts from other perspectives outside the canon that have historical and literary merit.

Also, while there were white and/or male writers who may have written well about the experience of others (e.g. "To Kill a Mockingbird,"), it's still a white or male perspective on other people's experience. That's problematic.

There are plenty of powerful books/writings *from that time* that are NOT in the canon that might prove even more valuable because it teaches students using an actual primary source from that culture instead of that culture filtered through the white gaze.
"'Open the doors and let these books in' - what would a truly diverse reading list look like?" - The Guardian"The Literary Canon Is Mostly White. Here’s an Alternative Latin American Reading List" - Remezcla
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"Texts from the canon deal with contemporary issues and students should interact with them to understand that."Yes, canonical texts to deal with issues, but it's hard to ignore the fact that some of those texts handle those issues in problematic ways. Showing those students *only* problematic or outdated views of very real issues regarding race, sexuality, mental health, class, gender, etc. perpetuates the "single story" (as Chimamanda Adichie discusses in her TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story") that exists about those issues."The Danger of a Single Story"
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"We read from the canon because these are books or types of texts students will experience on high stakes testing.” "We can use other texts to teach powerful literacy skills that students can apply to any text. We can also expose students to canon texts without them being their primary mode of learning. By having more diverse options students can choose which will increase engagement and in turn will make it easier to teach them those important literacy skills. It will also make them more motivated to engage in all texts because they have concrete skills they can use.” - Chiara Colicino
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"English class/school isn't supposed to be political.""Teaching is a political act," as Paolo Freire notes in his seminal text, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." James Baldwin also talks about this brilliantly in his speech "A Talk to Teachers."

Helping students access critical thinking and sharing knowledge and ideas with them is inherently both political, as our work asks us to let students question the system and world that they live in. As NCTE’s Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English notes in their piece, "There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times", "English language arts teachers must examine the ways that racism has personally shaped their beliefs and must examine existing biases that feed systems of oppression." This also includes math, as Rochelle Gutierrez notes in her piece, "Why (Urban) Mathematics Teachers Need Political Knowledge."

Even trying to be "apolitical" is a political choice. Thus, we can choose texts that actively engage our students while uplifting, validating, and exposing them to identities, ideas, and perspectives previously unheard.
Rochelle Guitierrez, "Why (Urban) Mathematics Teachers Need Political Knowledge"Pedagogy of the OppressedA Talk to TeachersThere Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These TimesPodcast with Mr. Minor
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"This is what we've always taught, and these are the resources I have access to." OR "I want to try from the canon, but my schoo/administration/community won't allow me to."These are understandable arguments that many teachers can empathize with. First, we can acknowledge that the system does not adequately compensate or provide teachers (particularly public school teachers) with the resources, finanical compensation, or time needed in order to properly plan innovative or socially conscious curriculum. This is wrong, and something we should also work to change.

In addition to that, though, is the privilege and responsibility we have to our students to give them a just and socially powerful education in not just content areas, but as they grow to be justice-oriented and responsibile citizens as well. While it is hard, we must also acknowledge how important the role we play is, and seek to do that work for ourselves and support each other to create and share curriculum for teachers (particularly new teachers) to better provide for their students.

There are great organizations and folks onlilne, such as EduColor, #DisruptTexts, and We Need Diverse Books, providing resources for teachers. Hopefully this helps. Ultimately, the fact that there are a dearth of resources for white and/or male authored texts and not for others is another example of how power and inequity perpetuate its ideals generation after generation.

Also, it is an unfortunate truth that sometimes administration or communities are not supportive. We encourage teachers to reach out online and in their PLCs about how to have these tough conversations to engage community stakeholders to provide updated curriculum designed to do what's best for students.
EduColor#DisrupttextsWe Need Diverse Books
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MORE THANKS TO:#DisruptTexts
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Tricia Ebarvia
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Lorena Germán
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Dr. Kim Parker
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Julia Torres
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Marybeth Baldwin
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Jillian Heise
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Chiara Colicino
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Angelina Murphy
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