The call for more diversity in the selection of required readings in schools has led to an expected wave of ridicule and anger in online opinion sections. But the idea is meaningless.
A few weeks ago, the teachers’ union SEW issued a statement demanding more differences in the Luxembourg school curriculum, especially in terms of reading comprehension.
Before I go further, a few things about myself: I am not only a student in the Luxembourgish school system, but I graduated in ‘Section A’. If you don’t know, after completing four years of higher education (usually), students in Luxembourg can choose one of the ‘sections’ to decide what they will focus on in their last three years of high school. When I was in school, the sections were A (literature and modern languages), B (mathematics), C (natural sciences), D (economics), E (art), F (music), and with G (general education but with a focus on sociology).
After graduating from ‘Section A’, I studied German literature and linguistics in Germany before becoming an English-German translator and published writing – what I want to say is: Books and languages play a big role in my life.
I think the issue raised by SEW is important and interesting, because my own opinion has changed over the years.
A very clean inner surface…
Joining ‘Section A’ is probably one of the best things that can happen to a young-me. Even then, I was very interested in literature, and I was very happy to spend 90% of my school hours discussing literature.
But speaking of, what are those activities we discussed? Listing everything I read in those three years, I’ll just give you a list of required reading in my senior year, including novels, plays, and including the songs we will learn for our final show. :
- Der Tod in Venedig (“Death in Venice”) by Thomas Mann
- Faust I & II by Johann Wolfgang Goethe
- Antigone by Jean Anouilh
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- Various poems by Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Paul Éluard, and excerpts from Marcel Proust. À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”)
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare
- A Girl’s Story by Margaret Atwood
- Andreuccio da Perugia (one of the 100 short stories featured in Giovanni Boccaccio Decameron)
- Patent Date by Luigi Pirandello
- Sostiene Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi
Even if you don’t know all of these authors, what you immediately know is that there is only one woman on this list. The other 12 authors were (white) men.
I have to admit at the time, I didn’t really think about this. I remember, however, that my English teacher at the time criticized the lessons in German and French for not being “integrated” enough. In fact, when I wrote my final exams in 2016, the German program has been the same for decades.
I would definitely say that our English class has given us a very diverse selection of authors. However, it should be noted that a national study only applies to the final year – before that, the teachers choose the required readings of the year.
The question at hand now is a real one: Do I feel like I’m “missing” something because of a reading list that isn’t diverse enough?
… but still shallow
When someone insists on the difference between personal reading lists, others like to respond with something along the lines of “Well, these books are on the curriculum because they are recognized as masterpieces.” “. In a sense, this is the same argument that people make against the introduction of a women’s quota or gender quota: They fear that such measures will be a moral hazard.
There are some problems with this argument, however. First: Who decides what is considered a “masterpiece” in the first place? After all, photography is neither a hard science nor a sport, there is no point of comparison here. In fact, many of the literary canons were created years ago by a group of old white men, and for some reason people think we should consider their ideas as scripture.
And to be clear, I’m not saying that Macbeth, Faustor otherwise Madame Bovary they are bad works of art, not by a long shot. I really enjoy them all and I think if you teach them right, students can learn things that are still relevant today.
However, there is a problem much more document abroad. This is something I really discovered when I left high school and had plenty of time to explore the book world on my own. I would say – without a doubt – almost all the books that had the biggest impact on my life were books that I read after I graduated from school. Books by queer authors, books set in a post-colonial context, books that break down the walls between genres – there are many works that are not included in the must-read list.
So, what is the outcome here? Out with the old, in with the new? In part, of course yes. Literature has an amazing power to open our minds to realities that we cannot imagine. And that, in my personal opinion, is a real mistake if we allow this great power to be wasted by keeping the gates open to the kind of literature that students see during their academic career.
Of course, we can’t squeeze all the world’s literature into a school lesson. But that’s why it’s important to always change the choice. And for discussing classical music and modern literature: Why not include both? I remember thinking about the combination of Macbeth a A Girl’s Story in my final year, it was fun and interesting. And if I think back to the French and German novels I’ve read over the past few years, there are many books that would be amazing reading in class.
Ensuring that school reading charts accurately reflect the world we live in does not diminish anyone’s interests. Authors who lived hundreds of years ago and whose books have been analyzed to death by generations of college students are not worthy.
And while it may be a serious issue to some, exposure means a world of difference to others. We have to remember that if it shows us nothing, it is because we are used to having it all the time. But there are many facts out there, other colors, and other stories – we’ll make sure to tell them all.