High School Literature: A Break From The Classic Canon


Grace Franklin (she/her)

New books like The Poet X, Born a Crime & The House on Mango Street are added to the English syllabus, providing more diverse perspectives for young readers.

In most schools, high school English teachers have been teaching very similar literature over multiple generations. Pride and Prejudice, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird commonly appear on high school book lists across America. However, schools such as Campolindo have begun to question the presence of diversity in these classics, questioning why we tend to predominantly read books only about and written by white people.

Campo students may not have recognized many of the books on syllabuses this year, likely because teachers are exploring new realms of literature that introduce and expose students to new, modern attitudes and perspectives.

English 2 teacher Shannon Sieckert explained that it’s “very important that we definitely bring in contemporary voices so that [these books] are still relevant to students, and that they hear from fresh and diverse perspectives”.

1 of the major problems felt with a strictly classical listing was that not all students felt they could identify with what they were reading. Sieckert feels that books serve as “windows to the world,” and that a more inclusive curriculum gives students the opportunity to develop awareness and a better, more authentic understanding of other groups and worldly themes.

Sophomore Jamie Kelly experienced new literary works in English 1 teacher Chris McNevin’s class. Kelly said “it was a pleasant surprise” to be reading books like The Poet X and The House On Mango Street because they were “more up to date…like current events.”

Kelly, like many others supporting a more culturally-diverse literary education, sees value in “gain[ing] knowledge and perspective of other people in the world.”

Growing up in Lamorinda, many students may feel sheltered without constant exposure to the nature of other ethnic, cultural, and religious groups and individuals. For Campo students, the introduction of more diverse literature at school serves as a genuine, realistic insight into the lives of more people other than themselves. For example, Kelly explained she “learned about the perspectives of minorities” through her exposure to more ethically inclusive material.

As the 2021 school year kicks off, Campolindo English classes are beginning to explore their 1st novels, short stories, and poetry. Teachers hold the hope that students will expand not only their knowledge of English, but also their understanding of the world around them.