A More Diverse Reading List: Should the English Curriculum be Updated?



When it comes to the Edison Public High Schools’ English curriculum, there is a lack of diversity in writers. In the district, 81.3 percent of the students in Edison High School and John P. Stevens High School are people of color, so it makes sense that the English curriculum should reflect such a distinct student body. 

In a survey that included over two hundred of the over 2,000 students in Edison High School, 95 percent of the students believed that there need to be more authors of color within the English curriculum. The results showed that 81 percent of the participants have mostly read books by white authors for school while the remaining 18 percent have read an equal amount of books by authors of color and white authors. None have read more authors of color than white authors. A student interviewed said that this statistic is quite startling considering that 73.5 percent of the students in Edison High School are students of color. 

Excluding AP English, 25 percent of the texts found within the high school English curriculum are by authors of color. These include Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. In AP Language and Composition, out of the non-fiction texts, about 17.33 percent (13/75) of the texts are written by authors of color. 

Trinity Daniels ‘21, who is Black, said that ,“…there is a serious lack of literary works by authors of color….we are not exposed to enough books by Black authors.” 

Parent Ms. Toni Williams, who is also Black, said, “there is a wealth of information about African Americans that is never discussed.” 

However, it must be noted that there are a couple of substantial literary works about people of color that have made an impact upon society, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. However, despite these books being centered around people of color, they are by White authors. A Latin parent who wishes to remain anonymous was asked for her opinion on whether or not white authors could accurately portray people of color. She said white authors do have the ability to accurately portray authors of color but only if they do their research and interview people of color. If the white author, however, does not do their research and write primarily from their own perspective, they cannot. This results in a very thin line between misrepresentation and accurate representation that can be difficult to differentiate. 

According to Mrs. Harriet Sideris, English supervisor of EHS and JPS, the curriculum is at least updated every ten years but has been adjusted every few years as of 2009. At the time of publication, the English high school curriculum (excluding Advanced Placement) posted on the Edison Public Schools website was last updated three years ago. There will be another change this summer, with a focus on making the English curriculum more diverse. Eight teachers from JPS and EHS with experience in grades nine through twelve are to be on the committee, which will also take into account students surveyed in previous years for their input. 

Whether or not classical books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird should still be part of the English curriculum or replaced with more contemporary books is a consideration. Ms. Jacqueline Pelliccio and Mr. Patrick McCaffery said that whether “older” or contemporary works should be included in the curriculum depends on the purpose of the book in class. Classical books can serve the purpose of better understanding a period in history while contemporary books can provide a progressive perspective on modern issues. However, in regards to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, Ms. Charsese Johnson said that while they are “outdated and somewhat offensive,” both provide unique writing styles to be studied and taught. 

Based on student opinion, an English curriculum with diverse authors is necessary to reflect the diverse student body of EHS and JPS. According to Johnson, “Students need to be able to see reflections of themselves in their reading.”