Are Classics Always the Answer? 

Alicia Dyer (’25) discusses the implications of lack of representation in the literature we read. “In school, the general assumption is that you learn about significant things and people. So, if you don’t learn about something in school, it must not be as relevant.”

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on an English class where my assignment was to analyze some of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems. The first one wasn’t bad, but the more often I read them the more tired of them I became. His writing wasn’t bad, in truth, it was pretty good. It was the point of view that was tiring. Each time, without fail, the main character was a white man, and if there were a secondary character, they would also be a white man. Identical identities and struggles were represented each time. There was nothing new to learn and I couldn’t connect with any part of the writing. Reading all of these stories felt completely pointless. While there are so many beautiful identities that they can’t all possibly be represented in a single poem, it’s not fair to anyone to only chose to consistently show one when there are so many others out there.

Don’t get me wrong, classics can be beneficial — showing different types of writing styles and conflicts. But one thing that they don’t have is different identities. Throughout school, people learn important skills. No, I’m not just talking about math and science. I’m talking about empathy and kindness. How are you supposed to show empathy for a group of people that you never learn about? In school, the general assumption is that you learn about significant things and people. So, if you don’t learn about something in school, it must not be as relevant. The issue with that mindset and with our current curriculum is that not everything important is included. So many people’s stories aren’t told. Education is power, and the more we know about people the more understanding we can be toward them.

It’s time to stop emphasizing classics and start emphasizing diverse books. It feels like the majority of the books I read are all dominated by white men and the struggles they go through. An article from The Stanford Daily says that in one student’s case,” …even on the rare occasions BIPOC authors were included in the curriculum, they were confined to the summer reading and only a couple days would be spent analyzing and discussing them. On the other hand, weeks and months would be spent reading and analyzing ‘the same old, tired ‘classics’ that don’t represent the people, time or experience of its audience.’” Let’s diversify our lessons and make everyone feel represented. You’d be surprised at the difference seeing yourself in something you’re passionate about can make. 

I read a really interesting article by Tricia Ebarvia called How Inclusive is Your Literacy Classroom Really?  In the article, she talks about assimilation and not seeing herself in the stories she learned about. One thing that stood out to me was the eight questions she left at the end to help teachers understand whether or not they’re being inclusive. These questions are:

  • How inclusive is the media you consume, personally and professionally?
  • How inclusive is your curriculum?
  • How inclusive is your classroom library?
  • How inclusive are your mentor texts for writing?
  • How often do you use gendered versus non-gendered language?
  • How equitable are your student discussions? In what ways do you ensure all student voices are heard?
  • How often do you show (think aloud) inclusive thinking when discussing your decisions and responses to texts?
  • In what ways—and how often—do you and your colleagues reflect on your practices to ensure all voices are recognized and respected?

In the article, she also has more questions to go further in-depth into each of these topics. While I’m not a teacher and I can’t answer all of these questions exactly as they were meant to be received, I can think about the impact of these questions on the lessons I’m learning. Teachers aren’t doing badly with most of these, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. And I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s definitely not, but there are steps we can take to make things better. 

In The Chicago Tribune, they made a helpful suggestion about something we can do. 

“For example, a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird opened with questions about why the book is widely taught: ‘For what reasons might teachers include this text in their curriculum? What is the value in teaching this text? Do you have to teach this text — why?’” Simply by asking questions like these and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, we can begin to make things right.

Yes, the classics have been taught for ages. Yes, they can be great books. Yes, they can be helpful to read and analyze. But who are we leaving out? Are there other books that teach the same things but showcase different identities? I guarantee you there are. 

To end this blog post, I don’t want to leave anyone feeling hopeless or like they don’t know where to start. So, here are some resources to look into alternatives to classics:

Good luck and know that I, along with the rest of the Writing Center, believe in you. 

The Math Behind Writing

Will Pace (’24) invites us to think creatively about structure in writing. “…my “structure” was my thought directly to the page. I could have never written this post with a graphic organizer.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh my gosh Will no shut up I hate math please don’t write about math please!!!” And to that I’d say, don’t worry, because I hate it too. And don’t get too worked up, because math doesn’t REALLY exist behind every single piece we write (or maybe that’s what I want you to think). Ok fine, but for real, whether you think it’s true or not, I most certainly think it is.

You are most likely still confused, so let me explain a little more in depth. Everything you do in life seems to have a “process”, or a certain way it functions. Not just that, but there is really a type of math behind everything. If something has dimensions, it’s made up of math. The angle at which you would throw a ball to get it to a certain spot works mathematically. Heck, the price of a gallon of milk at the store is numbers. But how does this relate to writing?

I can guarantee that writing has been taught to you as a process. We’ve all heard of and written an essay in English class that has an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Super fun right? Actually, it’s the opposite. I am certainly not a fan of this style of writing, but that’s okay, because you don’t need a specific structure to start writing. Sometimes the structure comes from the writing, and not the traditional other way around. 

I often dive into pieces of mine with no structure, and just type and keep going until It’s finished (LIKE I AM RIGHT NOW!!!!) Obviously I’m gonna go through and revise it afterwards, but my “structure” was my thought directly to the page. I could have never written this post with a graphic organizer. What I’m saying is I can’t write effectively with that structure we were taught, which is honestly why I hated writing for so long.

NOW. I bet you are probably wondering, “Will! How does THAT relate to math?!?” Well, what I’ll say is that with math comes structure, and with structure comes math. You can’t have one without the other. We are taught structure in everything we do, and that is the same with writing. But the more and more you write, you begin to see that structure maybe isn’t always as important as it’s made out to be. So maybe I’m saying that the math behind writing is that there isn’t math behind writing. Or at least there doesn’t have to be.

One take on one take writing

Lucius Webster (’23) meditates on the value of one take writing, “Your writing was meant to be, your writing was meant to exist, and then float away like a wish lantern.”

Anyway he told me, God’s plan is like a beautiful tapestry, and the tragedy of being human is that we only get to see it from the back. With all the ragged threads and the muddy colors. We only get a hint at the beauty of what would be revealed if we could see the whole pattern, on the other side. As God does. – Daredevil

It’s been some time since I’ve created the space. The time. The energy and the freedom to write like this. I sit here now surrounded by noise yet filled with my music, a poetry of its own. Clear minded and free. Shunning distractions is step one, and I don’t mean all the noise around you or the arguments, not even the birds chirping. I mean the mess of your emotions, the influenced actions, the hurt parts of you that are failing to acknowledge the beauty of your existence. So once again, Just breathe. In through your head out through your chest. Direct the motion of your air, the motion of your stress, control it. For you’re the only person that can. Step two, be honest, with your wrongs, your rights, your maybes and your ignorance. Be honest with the choices you have made for they make you who you are and you are beautiful. Now both of these steps may not come all the time, they might not fit into the everyday timeline and that is
ok. So, even though if you ask me I’ll deny I have one, this is my process. Oh, and the most important part, step three, the music. Though I guess it doesn’t have to be music, choose something that fills you with peace, with thought, not something to listen to or understand, just peaceful thought. Now if you have made it this far I hope you’re not still reading, and instead writing. Writing until your mind empties. Writing until you feel at peace with the hardships
you’ve overcome.

I’ll wait for you to finish…

Hopefully by the time you’ve come to a conclusion you read this instead of what you wrote. Your writing was not for your judgment, or anyone else’s. Your writing was meant to be, your writing was meant to exist, and then float away like a wish lantern. The more you read, the more your emotion changes, the more your judgment comes back, the judgment we spent so long eliminating. So if you have the time to finish your one take writing, try step four. Take your
laptop or piece of paper, put it away. In a place of closure turn your music up. And float away.

Float away where time doesn’t matter, where your stress is not real and improve yourself once more.

Lack of Representation

Agni Gupta (’24) writes about lack of representation in fantasy literature. “All the protagonists had similar traits to me but none of them truly reflected me, my family, or my heritage.”

I’ve lived my whole life surrounded by excellent fantasy series, people singing praise for great characters and greater worlds, great protagonists, and greater enemies. My friends always saw themselves in the pages, be it as Percy Jackson or Nancy Drew there was alway someone for them. I guess I did too, but not to the same degree. All the protagonists had similar traits to me but none of them truly reflected me, my family, or my heritage.

Most of my middle school years were spent reading Lord of the Rings, and if you look at me now, you can see the mark it left. I own a replica of the one ring, I wear it almost every day like a nerd but it’s probably one of my most prized possessions. Reading the books exposed me to different sorts of writing, separate from the countless YA novels I had previously consumed. I think one of the biggest draws was how removed from our world the story, the people, the
cultures, and the languages were. Granted I know more Quenya than I know Hindi and I can point out more places on a map of Middle Earth than I can for India, Lord of the Rings feels like home. A world with eons of history and miles of land to travel, to explore.

When the pandemic hit, I stopped reading and started writing. I locked myself into writing, building a story of a man of South Asian descent in a world of magic, running through plot after plot till I settled on one I liked. I repeat the process, with different stories; an Indian boy on his way to a summer camp where he’s destined to meet the love of his life, a south Indian girl in her first weeks of college having silent mutual jealousy for the guy who lives across the hall and a subtle crush on her roommate. A man named Dev Dhawan who dies, leaving his time-traveling boyfriend to solve the mystery. I had so many ideas for stories centering people like me that it’s almost overwhelming, but I’ll make it work, for the future, for kids like me.

Slow & Steady

Lillian Hescheles (’24) writes…”It’s okay to take longer than others in school: A lesson I’m trying to learn.”

Since the very beginning of first grade, I remember feeling like I was “slower”
compared to the rest of the kids in my class. I took longer to finish the lengthy
writing workshop stations, couldn’t understand the process of division like the rest of the kids, and was forced to see a reading specialist because I wasn’t able to read as quick or as “principled” as everybody else. I was six years old when I had myself convinced I was dumb. By the time middle school arrived, lessons were taught faster and tests were long, packed, and usually timed.

“You have the class period to finish.” My teachers would always say. Then, the packet of multiple choice and written answer questions would be thrown onto my desk. I was always able to write my name, the date, and hour. But, that should be easy, right? It was so quiet. I couldn’t understand what the question was asking, so I would reread it over and over again. I consistently felt hopeless as I heard the other kids in my class flip their first pages over, meanwhile I hadn’t even answered the first question yet. I would always study days in advance; making flashcards, reading textbooks, and doing practice quizzes. I had felt ready, I had felt prepared. If I had felt so ready, why hadn’t I finished in time?

“That was so easy.” I would always hear all my peers say. I never thought tests
were easy; I never did because I never finished, let alone did well. Everybody would share their scores, every single one being better than mine. So, I would lie. Yes, that was easy. Yes, I got an A too. Yes, I was in 7th grade and still felt just as dumb as I did in first grade. Following 7th grade, I went onto experience new difficult classes and new teachers. I felt my self esteem being ruined by attending school everyday. I felt like I didn’t have the values that were supposed to make a good student. I felt like something was wrong with me because I learned differently than everybody else.

A few days ago I read an eye opening article from Education Today. The article
was talking about the ongoing knowledge gaps which form when classrooms are taught at high paced speeds, leaving everyone else behind. The article also talked about the effects of being “slower” in the classroom, “As a result of their inability to match the learning pace of their peers, they might consider themselves lesser than others. This will affect their self-confidence and self esteem.” Reading this was shocking because I felt so connected to what the writing was saying. For so long, I felt like the students around me thought I was dumb. I felt like teachers believed I was dumb. I felt like my friends and family thought I was dumb. I started to believe it.

Today, as a junior in high school, I’ve started to overcome these negative thoughts. I’ve become a person who’s accepted that everyone is different, including the ways we learn. Attending school has been hard for me, but it’s taught me a lot about who I am. I haven’t achieved full confidence while I attend school everyday, and I most likely never will, but I’m learning. After being put into an educational system designed for one type of learner for almost 11 years, I’ve started to grasp who I am as a student. I am slow. But, I’m smart. I take longer to finish simple tasks. But, I work hard. I have a hard time understanding the first time. But, I’m brave enough to ask questions. I’m a slow learner. But, that was never my fault; it will never be my fault;
it’s just the way I learn; that’s all.