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English department diversifies reading material

Raymond Rice’s English 2H class reads quietly. Photo by Maddie Meilinger.

Media heavily influences people’s lives and opinions, and assigned readings at schools can contribute to that, which is why there is an attempt here at Bear River to give students books with more diverse writers and characters.

“All of our books go through the DCC, which is a district curriculum committee,” said Librarian Josie Andrews. “The books that we have in classroom sets go through the English department. Some of the books that are selected, we get because we do Nevada County Reads and Writes every year, which is in collaboration with the public library … The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools actually purchases classroom sets for us to use, so, that way, teachers have more options to select from.”

The books that are chosen by Nevada County Reads and Writes feature varied themes, ideas, and casts of characters. For example, Everything I Never Told You features a Chinese-American protagonist and explores themes of how her appearance and race affects her life and interpersonal relationships. This is a contrast to The Martian, which, instead of focusing on people, chooses to focus on answering the question of how someone would survive if they were abandoned on Mars.

Junior Arieal Swindell explained why she thought a diversity of genres and styles is important.

“I think it’s very important, because there are so many different styles of books out there,” she said. “Not only is it important to have knowledge of all of them, but, if you are a pretty avid reader, being able to find what you really like is a fun experience.”

English Teacher Mrs. Noah confirmed that there “absolutely” has been an attempt to choose books with more diversity.

“The English Department wants all of our students to be able to read a variety of authors, subject matters, and topics,” she said, “so that students can have a wider perspective.”

There are mixed opinions on whether or not this is actually good for students. Many think that it is very important.

“I feel that if we only learn one thing, and only experience one thing, it can give us a biased look on life,” said Senior Marissa Kropf. “We need to go into life open to all areas and all options.”

Swindell agreed with Kropf.

“People want to read books that are about them,” she said. “It’s the same thing with movies, if you see a lead star that’s a white male, not everyone’s going to like it as much, because they don’t feel they have a chance. Let’s say if they’re a superhero or something, a lot of them are white males, but then you feel like your race or your sexuality or your gender is not being represented.”

However, not all students at Bear River hold this opinion.

“We get enough diversity outside of the books, that’s not the only place we consume content,” said Junior Caleb Lowry. “There’s a lot of diversity elsewhere, and the books are kind of traditional, and the point is to read old writing. To get diverse, we would probably have to go more new-school, because there weren’t a lot of very radical opinions a hundred years ago.”

Some thought that we should shift the focus of our assigned literature entirely to have a better understanding of history.

“We should focus on pre-war stuff,” said Senior Asa O’Callaghan. “Specifically, Mein Kampf, the Communist Manifesto, just the true classics of iconic literature.”

One parent posted a Facebook post expressing strong concerns about English teachers allegedly trying to espouse an agenda of “social justice” instead of trying to educate students on linguistics. However, if parents don’t approve of the decisions being made over the assigned reading, including textbooks, novels, and articles, they do have other options.

“No parents or students have contacted the English Department or librarian with any concerns,” said Noah. “Parents always have the opportunity to choose a comparable book if they are not comfortable with the books currently assigned. All the novels we read as part of our 4-year plan have to be approved by the district. The textbook is our in-class text, so articles chosen are by the teachers per unit. Parents are always welcome to look at the student textbooks.”

Noah was also clear that there was not an attempt to sway students’ political opinion.

“The job of a teacher is to provide multiple opportunities and perspectives. Global learners with empathy, intellectual curiosity, and grit challenge themselves to read a variety of materials,” she said. “We want our students to form their own opinions about life!”

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English department diversifies reading material