Senior Amaya Anguiano entered Country Day high school fully expecting to be overlooked in the curriculum. But, she wasn’t. Here at Country Day, diversity has and should continue to be extended beyond the student body and into the curriculum. Last year, when English teacher Jason Hinojosa taught “There There,” a book written by and about Native Americans, with his Advanced Topics in English Literature class, a student approached him after class. “He said that he had never read a book where it felt like someone like him had been featured in the book,” Hinojosa said. Understandably, this saddened Hinojosa to hear. His bright, well-read senior had never seen himself in the literature he consumed, and it was only when he finally did that he began to embrace class discussions with new vigor.
“There’s something about seeing yourself in the stories that you read and the media that you consume that generates a genuine interest,” Hinojosa said. “If you don’t have that, it’s kind of hard to ask a student to care about a story that doesn’t relate to them.” However, a diverse curriculum is about more than just student enjoyment—it’s a matter of confidence. In a 2010 study conducted by Celestial Zal dana of Harvey Mudd University, evidence showed that members of minority groups who are traditionally underrepresented in school curricula experienced increased levels of self-esteem when reading books written by members of their ethnic group.
This was the case for Anguiano. “When I read “The House on Mango Street,” I finally felt like I had a voice,” Anguiano said. Moments like these are essential for all students. Country Day must embrace a diverse curriculum to match its student body. To an extent, it does. In the history department, both history teachers Liz Leavy and Christopher Arns strive to highlight different cultures in their curriculum. “I’m always looking for ways to plump up the non-European aspects of my curriculum,” Leavy said. “In fact, part of the reason I want to switch from Advanced Placement Art His tory to AT Art History next year is so we can further explore more diverse subjects.” Similarly, the English department seeks to replicate the diversity of the student body in the book selections. “In our English classes, we’ve really tried to have books from a wide variety of per spectives,” said Head of High School Brooke Wells. “All students have what we like to call windows and mirrors that reflect who they are and give insight into who other people might be.” When it comes to gender diversity, the school has succeeded. “If you think about all of the classes you’ve taken, how many of them have a cast com posed entirely of female authors?” English teacher Diego Panasiti asked, referring to his English 10 curriculum. Although Panasiti’s class is the only one to exclusively feature female authors, he is not alone in prioritizing gender diversity, a strength of the English department. However, when it comes to diversity in terms of racial and sexual identity, there is some room for improvement. Currently, the English 9 curriculum in cludes “Animal Farm,” “The Lord of the Flies,” “Warriors Don’t Cry,” “The Things They Car ried,” “The House on Mango Street” and “The Tempest.” Of that selection, two include Black or Latinx protagonists. In English 10, sophomores explore immigration with “Twilight: Los Angles, 1992,” “The Undocumented Americans,” “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which highlight Black, Latinx and East Asian voices. However, in junior year, minority voices are less prevalent with “The Marrow of Tra dition,” a book about the Black experience during the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, being the sole source of representation in a list comprised of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “My Àntonia,” “Ethan Frome,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Life Stories.” Diversity returns senior year with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “ Indecent” and “Hold These Truths’’ in English 12 and “The Laramie Project,” “There There,” “The Complete Persepolis” and “Beloved” in AT English Literature. Together, the selection accounts for Black, Native American, Iranian, East Asian and LBTQ+ representation. This is all great, but as Hinojosa said, “there is always room for improvement.” Despite the school’s large South Asian population, none of the books in the high school are by or about South Asians. To address this, the English department should consider adding “Interpreter of Mala dies” by Jhumpa Lahiri to the book list. Suggested for ages 14 and up, the book is a collection of nine short stories highlighting the struggles of Indians and Indian Americans as they attempt to remember their roots while embracing a “New World.” Additionally, although there is LGBTQ+ representation in the senior year curriculum, the school should consider replacing one of the books in one of the other curricula to better represent its diverse student body. Both “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf and “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker would be wonderful additions to the school’s English curriculum. Only 134 pages, “Orlando” follows a transgender poet’s journey with a satirical recount of the history of English literature, while “The Color Purple” documents the story of a Black teenager’s abuse and exploration of her sexual identity. Both books discuss mature content, but in a classroom setting, students should be capable of safely exploring these themes. And so, when the English department meets to discuss next year’s books, they should continue to implement the diversity that they have shown value, constantly seeking to amend any shortcomings.
This story was originally published in the Nov.17 issue of The Octagon