If you follow me on Twitter then you’d know that I am very passionate about diversity in all forms of media, that’s including books. After my last English Literature exam, I started a conversation on twitter about my feelings towards the texts that I’ve had to study in school and how the lack of diversity was quite unsettling.
This year I took IGCSE English Literature at school, I honestly hate the subject and which we didn’t have to take it but sadly we do.
After one of my exams, I was having a conversation with some friends of mine about the texts we’d studied over the year. We both agreed that the play An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley was the only text we enjoyed studying as it actually made sense and we felt a connection to the story.
The other texts we studied this year were I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill, The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare and an anthology of fourteen poems called Songs of Ourselves Volume Two.
I’m not going to summarise the plot of each of these texts or explain what each of the poems is about but they each have links to a page with general ideas on these texts if you’d like to know more about them.
The reason why I enjoyed studying An Inspector Calls over the other texts is because it dealt with the idea/theme of social responsibility in such a clear and impactful way, I believe the reason why so many other people (that I’ve talked too) felt the same way about this play.
I know that when I’m learning something at school if I enjoy it or have a teacher that makes me feel included or appreciated I am going to enjoy the subject/do much better in it than if I felt uncomfortable in the lesson. I find that if I’ve read a book I enjoyed I am able to start conversations about the plot, the themes and even small pieces of dialogue in the text, without it feeling like work.
Friends of mine stated that studying books with diverse characters helps students understand the novel better but also feel less alone. Learning about characters that students can relate to helps people feel valued and that they’re an important part of society.
One of the things not only I’ve noticed but also anyone who has studied any kind of text would have noticed is that whenever you studying text for school there will always be so much discussion about the text. There will be discussion about; the characters – who the characters are and what they stand for, all those kind of important things that helped build a character which therefore helps build the story build the plot, because of this there will at some point be discussions about the context (what time in history and what country it is set in). For us both plays, the novel and the majority of the poems were set in Europe. Which meant the majority of the conversations we were having were about western cultures and European people.
When we studied The Merchant of Venice we had to learn about the historical background of Jewish people, and how society viewed Jewish people at the time, and how this impacted the story. I didn’t really know a lot about anti-Semitism (other than World War Two) and about the history of it. I think that learning a lot more about this helped me understand the discrimination that Jewish people received and still do. However, I think it could have been a lot more beneficial if we learned about a Jewish character that wasn’t built on stereotypes, who wasn’t portrayed to be the villain, who at the end of the play ends up losing in the end and the Christian characters gaining from the Jewish person losses. However if we’d studied a novel where everyone was equal or the people who actually done wrong badly ended up losing out, I think would’ve have helped people see Jewish people in a new light and helped remove stereotypes surrounding Jewish people, especially considering the fact that this character was built on stereotypes.One of the other things that were something that was annoying about the texts we studied is that all the poems we studied, there was fourteen of them, over the year and almost every single one was written by a European poet, had something to do with a heterosexual relationship and Christianity.
Lastly, one of the other things that were something that was annoying about the texts we studied is that all the poems we studied, there was fourteen of them, over the year and almost every single one was written by a European poet, had something to do with a heterosexual relationship and Christianity. I’m not saying that none of the poems should be about Christianity or Christian beliefs and that you can’t have poems about heterosexual relationships, but considering the fact that there were fourteen poems and none of them was about a relationship f/f or m/m relationship, the fact that none of them contain any other religious beliefs is horrifying.
If you’d like to check out some more discussions on diverse literature being taught in schools I have found a few that I thought were really interesting here;
- Why I Teach Diverse Literature by Noah Cho
- Why aren’t we teaching more of these books? by Susan Swan
Let me know in the comments if you have or haven’t studied a diverse text at school and if you have, tell me about it.