I am not particularly happy with the slate of books I have to teach this year. Some are fantastic (Night) and some I believe every study should walk away from high school having read (The Great Gatsby), but overall they fall into the DWG category: Dead White Guy.
Thinking about this jogged my memory a bit back to when I was in high school and I distinctly remember one of my teachers talking about the DWG Canon and how she was trying to get away from it. Not that the DWG are bad, boring, or even unimportant, just that some diversity would be nice.
So, I looked at my student's list of novel reading and realized only ONE book they read their whole high school career does not fit into the DWG canon, and that is To Kill A Mockingbird which, is great, but hardly a testament to the diversity of literature out there. I made a list of the 32 novels/plays I remember reading as a high school student and though the list is dominated by DWGs, there was a obvious attempt to diversify the offerings--and not just because I was in honors/AP all four years.
When I looked back at my high school career and the books I enjoyed the most, some fall into the DWG category, but many come from FEMALE writers and minority writers. I realize I teach in a Catholic school and perhaps that accounts for a more traditional approach to literature, but to have one woman and no minority novelists or playwrights whatsoever is a travesty in the year 2008. Yes, the short stories and poetry might add some diveristy, but why not in our longer literature too?
I also realize I teach at a school without much diversity. Our minority population is miniscule, but I did not exactly go to a diverse high school myself. Though public with a voluntary transfer program, the majority of the students in my area and in my school were white. Even more reason for us to read diverse literature, to realize there is more to this world than our white, suburbian existence. My entire life I have lived without much diversity (even the college I went to was predominatly white), but I feel that reading the vast variety of experiences out there made me more aware, more tolerant, and less ignorant to the great wide world around me.
There is a plethora of amazing literature out there. Some of it resides within the DWG canon, some of it does not. It amazes me that more attention is not paid to who is writing the literature we teach, and what they can offer about life experiences that perhaps the DWGs cannot.