By Jacob Steiss
Educators and researchers have increasingly given attention to the lack of diverse literature and the absence of multicultural, BIPOC, and women authors in school curricula. As teachers, our choices about texts matter; Book lists predominantly featuring texts about white, male, heteronormative characters suggest these perspectives are normative and worthy of study. Alternatively, the absence of certain perspectives suggest they are not worthy of inclusion and consideration.
To acknowledge the great mismatch between our nation’s diverse school children and the homogenous texts they read would be a meaningful step towards educational equity and justice. More though, can be done by educators and school leaders when they reflect on the books present in their curricula, make changes to include and foreground diverse perspectives and experiences, and promote diverse ways of reading texts that represent the children we serve.
Here are three actionable steps we as educators can take to critically examine who is [and is not] represented in our texts and curriculum.
1. Conduct a book/curriculum audit
In her article How to Audit Your Classroom Library for Diversity, experienced educator and professor Kathryn Fishman-Weaver (@KFishmanWeaver) outlines how and why we should audit our classroom libraries for their representativeness. She notes that “books become transformative when they shift our perspectives, alter our worldviews, and deepen our relationships with others.” She advances a tool that helps educators check their libraries for representativeness and diverse perspectives: “Bookshelf Bingo.” The tool serves as a checklist and heuristic for educators to examine how their texts promote equity and diversity in their classrooms.
At first glance, checking boxes seems superficial. However, the real function of the tool is to prompt reflection and dialogue with peers about what books are taught and valued.
She writes “The bingo card is a call to pay attention to who we are reading, who we are teaching, who is represented, who is missing, and why.” For example, you may find that you recently taught a book by and about an immigrant experience, but have not read or integrated books by and about an individual in the LGBTQ+ community. This might engender important reflection and conversations with others in your department about whose perspectives are included and what steps can be taken to address any gaps or problematic omissions.
Fishman-Weaver says “teachers have frequently told me that this activity taught them to pay attention to the lived experiences of the authors they read and teach” and has revealed to teachers how their own reading preferences may influence the texts and perspectives their students encounter.
2. Add diverse perspectives to classroom reading (and diverse experiences within these perspectives)
Follow @sujeilugo and @readitrealgood who compiled the following reading list for young adults and this list for children 0-12 years of age.
Follow @trussleadership who has compiled a list of readings for teachers, school leaders,and researchers here.
In choosing texts, we also see it as important to elevate texts that celebrate BIPOC excellence and joy, not just stories that center trauma. A salient example can found in the Black Joy Booklist found here.
It is also important to consider adding books by BIPOC authors not just books about these experiences as trends in diverse authorship has been shown to lag behind representation. The following list from bookriot highlights 20 books written by Black authors that describe LQBTQ+ experiences. The author urges educators to go further in the types of identities featured in libraries and reading lists: “make sure the books you’re reading don’t solely reflect one identity, whether one portion of the LGBTQ community or mostly white authors.”
3. Promoting multicultural, critical, and disruptive readings of texts
As you start to incorporate more diverse literature into your bookshelf, reading lists, and curriculum, what’s next? In their 2012 article, Dr. Jodene (@jodene_morrell) and Ernest Morrell (@ernestmorrell) suggested we do more than include diverse literature in our classrooms. In their article, “Multicultural readings of multicultural literature and the promotion of social awareness in ELA classrooms,” they argue that students need diverse texts and diverse ways of reading them to "critically analyze their cultural, social, and political worlds and understand pluralistic perspectives.”
A growing community of researchers and teachers argue that the way we read matters as much as what we read.
Given the high school and middle school canon predominantly feature white, male, heterosexual authors, movements like #Disrupttexts have explored ways to challenge the dominance of white, male, eurocentric worldviews in these texts. This post on Tricia Ebarvia’s (@triciaebarvia) blog describes how disrupting dominant ideologies and viewpoints in the canon, those frequently taught texts, can be restorative and move learners towards diverse perspective taking. It also talks about the discomfort and challenges one might face in disrupting texts.
Other research outlines ways to read “against” the text and ways to engage students in creating counterstories featuring characters and perspectives emblematic of a more inclusive society. For additional examples of critical reading, this article and presentation describe ways students analyzed problematic notions of masculinity and femininity in The Odyssey. Other valuable resources can be found in the following two books which describe how to engage students in critical analysis and production using canonical texts and other media students encounter:
Finally, The WRITE Center invites you to attend three, free webinars that center issues of educational equity. Register today for “A Time for Action: Centering Equity through Responsive, Transformative, Healing Literacy Instruction.”
Interested in guest blogging for the National WRITE Center? See our guidelines by clicking here.