A casual critique of language arts

Alexa Lim, Staff Writer

“Meticulously curated.”

“Written by a variety of unique authors.”

“Tender, yet complex and thought provoking.”

All phrases which may or may not be used to describe the curriculum of a high school language arts class. 

It’s been said over and over by language arts teachers that the purpose of reading is to broaden one’s horizons while developing necessary critical thinking skills. But how are students meant to achieve either of these when a majority of books within the curriculum are written by people who believe the epitome of writing is page-long paragraphs of internal monologue?

Orwell, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Golding, Shakespeare… What do all these yawn-inducing names have in common? They’re dead, male and white authors whose writing is meant to spark thoughts and ideas beyond the typical teenager’s mental stream of nothingness. Admittedly, after numerous drawn-out discussions and late-night note taking, a student is likely to come up with a bit more than nothing, but it won’t be anything close to world-altering. 

However, as the grade levels go up, so does the amount of diversity within the selection of authors. Liberty’s most recent curriculum adoption was four years ago, and it required teachers to assign around one to two books from more diverse authors. Student-choice book groups also tend to feature authors with unique backgrounds, so that students can choose what they want to discuss with their peers. 

It’s clear that the school is making attempts at diversifying the narrative, but can it be said that this matches up with what students experience in class? The issues discussed in books are not always expanded to the real world as much as they could be, which often undermines their importance. Even if students acknowledge a book’s significance, the class environment often prevents them from taking anything away from the book since most students value grades over learning itself. 

Some students may feel that assigning books whose central themes are based on the struggles of marginalized groups is only a way for the district to act as if they care. However, even with the genuine intent of bringing new ideas to students, it remains difficult for schools to create environments where students themselves value critical thought. 

Maybe it’s the district to blame, or the general lack of understanding teachers have about students, but something needs to change.