Mirrors, Windows, and Doors
Last week the Warwick School Board approved, under recommendation of the administration and Education Committee, to add twelve new readings to the ELA curriculum at the secondary level. The group of faculty, lead by middle school teacher Elton Sturgis, worked to make sure that a majority of the new texts was written by and represented more diverse voices. I applaud this effort. It is a good start. But it is only a start. I firmly believe in the theory that books serve as mirrors, windows, and doors.
This is an educational and literary theory names by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor of African American literature and humanities at Ohio State University. “Books,” she wrote, “are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange...These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author...Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”
Our children need to see themselves in the readings they are assigned in school. But they also need to see through the eyes of others. They need to understand the similarities and differences. They need to have literature that helps them see the humanity in all of us.
The inclusion of the new texts in the secondary ELA curriculum should just be the beginning. We need to make sure our elementary students also are give books that will serves as windows and doors. Honestly, we need to stop white-washing the readings they are given. The One Book One School program is a great place to start. The book(s) selected should not be older texts (written before some of the teachers were even in school) and should not be entirely white characters. While the school board has no control over the books selected as the program is funded by a non-profit, as a school board member I can question the process in which the book(s) is selected and encourage the faculty committee to look outside the box.
Beyond the ELA curriculum we need to look at how the social studies subjects are taught and the texts are used. Is world history presented from a Eurocentric point of view? Are we glancing over the contributions of brown and black people to spend more time on European history? In US history classes are we including primary documents from indigenous peoples, slaves, Asian immigrants? Are we using the Mercator or Peters Projection maps in our classrooms. (yes, a map can make a big difference, as one presents white Europe as the large center of the world). In the sciences are we including the discoveries and inventions of BIPOC scientists with the frequency of the white scientists? Are we teaching the role women scientists have played beyond just Marie Curie? In math do we even discuss the fact that we use Arabic numerals, and medieval Iran saved mathematics as we know them?
All of this is important to creating a curriculum (beyond fiction books) that presents the world through mirrors, windows, and doors. As a school board member I will work hard to make sure our children are getting the best education possible, and that includes moving forward with progress and including our BIPOC brothers and sisters in our classroom texts.
And here is a little fun clip about the maps from a classic West Wing episode. (the "upside down" hung on my classroom wall when
I taught middle school world studies)