Two San Francisco school board trustees are proposing that classic minority literature be added to high school reading lists
School board battles over the 'color' of required reading
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Required reading could soon take on a different color in the San Francisco school system as two school board trustees suggest that classic minority literature be added to high school reading lists. That suggestion, though well-intentioned, has become quite controversial.
The required book list at San Francisco high schools is nearly all white. The students are not and neither is school board member Steve Phillips, who says it's time to change the list. "I just think that great literature comes from other parts of the world than England, and that we have not been diligent enough in really searching out those great writers and that great literature."
Phillips says Shakespeare, Chaucer and Mark Twain don't have much in common with a student body that's 87 percent Asian- and African-American. He says that the level of intellectual curiosity could be better sparked if students read books by
writers they can relate to.
The required book list at San Francisco high schools is nearly all white. The students are not.
Phillips won't boot the Bard off the list, he just wants to add some color. Under the plan, high schoolers would read ten books per year. Three must be classics such as Shakespeare, Chaucer and Twain. The student picks three. Phillips wants the rest to be non-white authors.
"And if we're looking at diversity, I strongly believe that we need to include great literary artists that are gay and lesbian," says board member Juanita Owens.
But mandates make teachers nervous. Waldermar Rojas, the superintendent of schools in San Francisco, asked, "Is there a magical number? Is it three out 10, four out of 10? Is five out of 10 the magical number? No.
"What should drive it," she said, "is, can you substantiate the quality?"
English teacher Gwendolyn Fuller says she was hired because students demanded a black teacher. But she chafes at the thought of teaching only black literature.
"Shakespeare is universal and timeless," Fuller said on CNN's TalkBack Live. "And literature is universal, timeless, and colorless. And I think you need a background in Shakespeare to understand language." 320k WAV audio file
The district has been looking at improving its reading list for two years.
The vote is due in two weeks and the community may be no less divided on the issue than it was when the study started.
CNN Correspondent Greg Lefevre contributed to this report.
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