The Literary Cannon is No Longer Accessible

When I think of the public education system I think of a couple of things.

I think about how many people hate reading.

And I think about how many people might’ve loved reading, if it weren’t for school.

The irony, right?

 English classes, from elementary school to middle school, are all about learning the English language. We try to speak it. We try to write it. 

The other half is spent trying to understand the ways we can then use it. This bring us to Shakespeare, the Romantic era, and maybe the Crucible.

All of these book that we have to read as “standards” is, for a lot of us, the death of literary interest. (Now hang on to some of you Shakespeare lovers, give me a moment to make my point.)

Although Shakespeare can be viewed as a notable literary work, (even though his work isn’t fucking his), the beauty around theatre and drama can be credited here.

For anyone who loves reading knows that all literary works are details of the human behavior. It doesn’t matter the genre. Fiction or non-fiction, they are pathways to understanding yourself or understanding others.

Literacy Is For the Standardized Tests and The College Rat-Race

Most of the literary focus in school is geared to standardized testing and state testing. This kills any insight young minds have around critical thinking. It becomes solely about time-performances that aren’t (in reality) a true measurement of intelligence.

It’s right around the time where young adults start to pick up on things about the world around us and it’s right around the time where the pressure for college starts.

According to Waterford, Nearly twice as many children aged 8 to 11 than those aged 14 to 16 said that they enjoy reading (77.6 percent vs. 43.8 percent).

I know literacy is not everyone’s thing.

 But the ability to think critically should be. I think often about how many people would be interested in works if we read non-fiction, memoirs, books about facts versus rooted in fiction.

Instead we get slammed with practice drills and that gets in the way of having a love for books.

This pulls into my rant about how certain knowledge becomes inaccessible due to the bureaucracy of education but I’ll digress.

I went to Louisiana and I knew someone who was an English teacher through Teach For America. Some of the works that are state standards can’t change without heavy activity from parents. These kids not only didn’t have computers or a library but their literature curriculum did not include a black author.

In a parish that is predominantly black, it’s unfair that they read a literary curriculum that actively  doesn’t reflect them.

Half of all school aged children are non-white. Of children’s books published in 2013, though, only 10.5 percent featured a person of color.

 It not only subconsciously encourages a lack of reading but psychologicaly limits the idea that black kids can contribute their ideas in a critical insightful way.

This is could be for a myriad of reasons.

  • They have never seen or heard of another black person doing it without subconsciously having the criticism of whiteness.
  • They are constantly asked to view literary ideas and constructs through white lenses.
  • Or ya know, literacy simply doesn’t move them.

I say all of this because I love reading and still do but faced both system-wise and curriculum-wise an uncomfortable amount of friction around what I loved.

This may never change either.

The public education system’s funding doesn’t even demonstrate any effort to correct any of these issues. It is often up to teachers. When we talk about mostly black populated schools, there are very little works for them to identify with.

When we talk about teacher’s resources, they are painfully very scarce. This puts the next generation at a detriment.

There is of course Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou who write themselves into the literary cannon but painfully become a side notation only.

When reading narrative works like Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl or other non-fiction works by black authors, it demonstrates how this writing has shift a nation.

But more importantly, works by people of color has been the historical start of America’s literacy, yet ignored unless a higher education is pursued.

I only hope that there is more of a critical lens around what types of literacy we give children. The chance we might give them to develop their thoughts. The chance they might have to think about these things at all.

Life Lover. Writer.

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