Teach Dead White Men, and Women, and People of Color

We here at Books That Grow pride ourselves on our inclusive library of multi-level books and essays, which offers a superb selection of writings that can be used to build a great curriculum for Black History Month.  As February is Black History Month, we’ve focused quite a bit on this part of our library, however, we always want to encourage the use of our entire library, and the creation of diversified reading lists–lists that will offer something that might resonate with all types of readers, and lists that will introduce new topics or themes to readers that might otherwise never be introduced to them.

 While we wholeheartedly encourage the continued addition of texts by African American authors, and about the African American experience into reading curriculums, we fervently support teaching of the works from the English canon, too. Sometimes, making a connection to texts is hard to do, regardless of your background and education. To do so, is a huge onus for teachers. Earlier this month, Irving Weathersby  Jr., published a story in The Atlantic entitled, Why to Teach Dead White Authors, Even During Black History Month, which recalled his experience teaching English, in inner-city Baltimore. He speaks specifically to teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost, and what he did to enable his students to connect with the work.

 Here are some Books Grow Titles that would make for a great diversified reading list:

Bernice Bobs Her Hair

Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, finds Fitzgerald in familiar territory: attempting to see past the glamor and glitter of America’s privileged elite. What makes this story interesting, however, is Fitzgerald’s feminist bent, and the way he explores the relationship between evolving social valuesincluding women’s liberationand fashion.

Are Women Persons?

In one of her most famous speeches, Are Women Persons? Susan B. Anthony captures the feelings of moral outrage felt by suffragettes, and soon to be, women everywhere. Drawing heavily on the language of the U.S. Constitution to further her own ends, Anthony not only justifies her decision to cast a ballot in the presidential election of 1872, but she also exposes the hypocrisy of the United States government for directly defying “the supreme law of the land.”

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Nothing screams “Dead White Man” quite like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. That being said, there are good reasons why Plato’s workafter a thousand yearscontinues to be widely considered the foundation for both modern and ancient philosophy. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave highlights Plato’s theory of forms, which provides a framework for understanding reality as we’ve come to know it.

The Beggar’s Roti

In this Indo-Caribbean folktale, the characters are are unnamed, and the setting is vague and undisclosed. The logic behind not contextualizing the setting or characters is that these stories can happen anywhere, to anyone. In the social landscape of fairy tales, fortune is fluid, and a prince can easily be reduced to a beggar, just as easily as a beggar can be elevated to the rank of prince. In this story, a pure-hearted beggar is rewarded for his virtue, while a miserly woman is punished for her greed and lack of compassion.

Glooskap and the Wolf

Glooskap and the Wolf is a creation myth of the Abenaki people from the North Eastern United States. The story recounts how a pair of god-like twins are born into a formless world and begin to shape it in their image. This piece is valuable for the light it can shed on creation myths outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

In many ways, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail is the distillation of his ideological and philosophical beliefs. After spending time in a jail cell with nothing to do but “think long thoughts” and “pray long prayers” King set out to mount an impressive defense of non-violent protest that would make his intellectual forefatherslike Gandhi, Tolstoy and Thoreauproud.