Are Shorians Reading the Right Books?

As part of the curriculum, Lake Shore students are required to read certain books. Classics like: To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and Romeo and Juliet have a place in the classrooms, and all have valuable lessons that each student can benefit from. There are some notable outliers to these books, however. Students famously groan about sludging through books like Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Shelley’s Frankenstein. This begs the question, are the books read in Lake Shore’s classrooms the best for our students?

The lack of women is startling. Exactly one of the approximately 12 books required for students to read features a female protagonist. Scout, the tomboy lead in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is the only girl in the Lake Shore’s curriculum to take the top spot. Even then, she is not your average girl. Scout’s rebellious nature and tomboy spirit are undeniably charming, but not an accurate depiction of all girls.

Characters aren’t supposed to represent everyone, that’s what makes them all the more special for the few that can relate. However, when there’s only one character to represent them all, there are going to be people left out. Male students don’t have to look far to find a character they can easily identify with. The lovestruck have Romeo, the righteous have John Proctor, the adventurous have Odysseus, and the sweet have Lennie Small. Meanwhile, Lake Shore’s ladies are strapped for representation. Women have limited options when trying to find a character to identify with, and it’s having a negative effect on our female students.

Sophomore Chloe Mainhardt admits that not seeing herself in books is tough. She says, “They want us to write essays on people we cannot relate to and experiences we don’t know.” The point she makes is not exclusive to her. It’s more difficult to write and understand the thoughts and actions of others when you can’t relate to them. She went on to say that when the books she reads don’t have characters like her, “it makes it harder to engage in classroom discussions”. Lake Shore’s female students are at a disadvantage because they don’t see themselves represented in the books they have to read.

When classes spend time on throwaway books, students can’t connect with literature in the way that the curriculum and our teachers wish they would. Students groan about Into the Wild’s dry tone and Frankenstein‘s confusing sequence of events.

If Shorians hate the books they’re required to read, they’re not going to go out of their way to read any others. William Shakespeare is arguably one of the greatest writers of all time, but is his old English really well suited to today’s classrooms? Students have to read both Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet to pass their freshman and junior English classes. For students with trouble deciphering Shakespeare’s tricky language, reading can be a nightmare. Not even considering our foreign students reading the most complicated form of English there is.

While some classes have made efforts for more inclusive books, none of the required books that are to be read by each student has changed much over the years. The books are still (I know it’s a cliche, bear with me,) predominately white male characters. While it’s important to put yourself into the shoes of someone else, for a student who book after book has to put themselves into the mind of someone nothing like them, they start to lose interest in reading. Lake Shore’s required reading isn’t resonating with their students anymore and it shows.

If students can’t connect with the literature they’re reading, they might as well not be reading at all. It’s an absolute necessity that students can not only understand, but identify with and enjoy the books they have to read. Required reading should be a shared culture between students. It’s an absolute miracle that there are some books everyone’s read. The ability to talk about and debate themes and ideas in literature is one of the most important skills you can aquire. Required reading should be assigned to help foster this idea between students. If Lake Shore’s students read more books that they loved, like Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, then there would be a greater sense of togetherness between Lake Shore’s student body.