A couple weeks ago, in the middle school book club that I help out in, we were talking about a book where the main character had two moms and a gay best friend.
I started off the discussion by asking what they thought of the book
“It was weird to read,” was the response of one student.
When I asked why they thought that, the student responded that they had never read, or even heard, of a book that included a gay character. It was strange for them because they’d never been exposed to someone like this before.
And that’s why representation matters, in the classroom, with friends and family and in society.
By giving students a chance to learn about people with backgrounds different from their own, we’ll have a more rounded, more accepting community.
It’s a disservice to our students to only teach the history of white men, which is what happens way too often in our classrooms. Our history includes all of us, not just the select few who had the means and the power to write the text books.
We shouldn’t erase history, but instead should teach it, even when it’s not the perfect, happy worldview that some people wish could always be presented.
As teachers, we’re often told that we have to adhere to standards or to the community that we’re in. But, in order to properly serve and educate the students, we have to push beyond that bare minimum and share the stories of those who are so often silence or pushed out of the text books.
In high school, I barely remember learning about any authors of color, only remember a few women and never discussed whether an author was anything but straight.
If students don’t feel like their education represents them, then why should they care?
We have to promise to go above and beyond for our students. The bare minimum isn’t enough.
Tell your students that Zora Neale Hurston was black and help them understand why that matters and how it shaped her experiences and her writing.
Tell your students that Virginia Woolf fell in love with Vita Sackville-West.
Tell your students about Ida Wells, a black journalist who investigated lynching.
Tell your students about Cesar Chavez, a Hispanic activist who brought attention to the plight of farm laborers.
And if it doesn’t fit into your curriculum?
You owe it to your students.