Jeffrey Boakye is right that the stories we tell our children are the molds that shape their future values (Why are English curriculum books still in the hands of white, straight men?, June 7) . Recent research from the End Sexism in Schools campaign has also established that children in the UK still live on a disturbingly restricted diet of white male perpetrators and white male protagonists.
Our research confirms that the novels mentioned by Boakye are among the top five most taught in grades 7-9. But boys must learn to listen to and respect female voices as authoritative, and to empathize with the perspectives of women and girls. This is key to addressing one of the root causes of male violence against women and girls. And girls need to learn that our expectations of them are not tied to life-denying gender stereotypes.
Parents – challenge your schools to change. Teachers – you have the power to make these changes. It is our duty as parents, educators and caregivers to teach children more books written by women and more books with female protagonists – and if that means omitting some of the so-called classics, so be it. be so!
Debbie Brazil and Rachel Fenn
Campaign to end sexism in schools
Jeffrey Boakye stresses the need for a wider choice of literature in the school curriculum in our diverse culture. I must say that when I was teaching, we studied a wide range. And even if “colonial shackles” are present, an enlightened teacher will discuss them with the students without necessarily damning the book.
Yes, some books were regular old chestnuts on the literature curriculum, but they have far more relevance for today than Boakye allows. Of Mice and Men sheds light on what it’s like to have a learning disability; Animal Farm tackles gang culture; and An Inspector Calls criticizes a classy white society.
Most literature teachers study with their A-level and GCSE students books such as Beloved by Toni Morrison, Roll of Thunder by Mildred Taylor, Hear My Cry, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which portray the lives of African Americans, Afghans and Indians, but are not chosen solely because of this. They inspire because of the art of fiction involved, which makes any book expand beyond itself to become universal, teaching children from diverse cultures about themselves and worlds to both familiar and unfamiliar.
The perpetrator’s skin color or gender identity shouldn’t matter. It is the work that should stand on its own to challenge and inspire.
The answer to Jeffrey Boakye’s question “what should be on the [English] study programme ? is simpler than is often thought. Nothing should be specified by review boards or governments. Entire classes, age groups or national cohorts do not need to study the same few texts.
English literature could be taught by allowing teachers and students to decide together, exploring relevant and important themes, including those identified by Boakye. Reading, analysis, and comprehension skills can be taught with examples, but not all students need to answer the same questions about the same books, in class or on exams. The current system is more convenient for teachers and markers, but it is also deeply repetitive. Let the children choose their own texts: it will be less boring and we may learn something.