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How is what we read in English chosen?

English class is one of the core subjects taught in our schools, and the books students read in that class are a core part of what they learn. So, how are books given to students selected, and do those students agree with what books are chosen?

According to the Pew Research Center, over a quarter of 17 year old high school students do not read for fun/outside of school, and another half of them only do occasionally, so for many students their entire impression of literature is based on what readings are assigned in school. So what is that impression? “I don’t really like most of the books we read in English,” said a student. “I just can’t connect with any of them.”

The lack of interest in the books given to students could possibly be one of the factors behind the low amount of students reading outside of class. One of the main points of assigned books is to expose students to different and diverse types, styles, and genres of literature, but if the end result is in fact less students reading other books, how effective is it really?

Only one book assigned to most sophomores at Carver up to this point has been written in this century: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. In fact, every other author that we have read, besides Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, has been written by an old, dead, white man that is more than likely over 200 years old. In addition to this, the lack of diversity of the characters in these books is frustrating. Only two books so far have had black or other non-white characters in them, which just makes them seem like token social justice talking points. While this is important, the scarcity of any meaningful and not pointed diversity takes away from the ideas presented in those stories. 

So, how exactly are these books chosen? According to Mrs. Fried, an English teacher at Carver, there is a list to choose from. “The county has a list of approved books that we can choose from, but sometimes our choices are limited by the book’s availability in certain schools.”  Any new book wanted to be added to that list must go through a county board of students and teachers that reviews it. 

Mrs. Fried’s opinion on the books we read is quite different from those of students. “I think we should start reading Shakespeare earlier,” she said. She also believes that the classics in the curriculum are important to read.  “A lot of the classics are alluded to in modern literature.”

But these classics, however influential those books are, students like them the least. “I didn’t like reading The Iliad last year. The old books we read, they don’t feel relevant to mpersonality and my identity, but I don’t see any of that in English.” Sometimes it can be hard to e,” the same student from earlier said. The book many students connected to most? Unsurprisingly, the only book we have read from the 21st century, The Hate U Give, was one of the most popular among students.

While it may be important for students to read “the classics” like The Odyssey (which was not even written in english by the way) or Macbeth, it is more important for students to read things they can connect to and that are interesting to them, so they can build up the literary stamina and skills they need to tackle the more difficult and “more boring” books that are commonly pushed on students in English class

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