Diversifying the BRRSD English/Language Arts Literacy Departments' Required Readings

Diversifying the BRRSD English/Language Arts Literacy Departments' Required Readings

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Maggie Buckridge started this petition to Suzanne Wooby, Supervisor of Language Arts Literacy 5-8 and

Across the country, people are calling upon their community leaders to better support Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). As a recent BRHS graduate committed to anti-racism, I am reflecting on my experiences in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District (BRRSD). I feel grateful for my education, especially for my dedicated teachers who have prepared me to go out into this world and create positive change. I have recently committed myself to doing more anti-racist reading, and found myself wishing that this was a commitment made by the English/ Language Arts Literacy (ELA) Departments. I am writing with the goal of prompting the ELA Departments to diversify its reading requirements. I am inviting members of my community with the same goal to sign it and partake in this movement for racial justice. - Maggie Buckridge, Class of 2019

The current selection of required reading in the intermediate schools, middle school, and high school contribute to the silencing of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous voices in modern-day America. We are asking you to diversify high school core readings, to bring awareness to international human rights atrocities, and to highlight recent examples of racism in America. 

With the exception of A Long Way Gone, every core text for the high school is written by a white author. The ELA Department must set an expectation of diversity by requiring literature written by BIPOC to be taught. We are asking you to require books and essays by Black, Latinx, and Indigenous authors. 

The Holocaust was a human rights tragedy, and students in this district are fortunate to learn about it at a young age. The reading list, however, by focusing primarily on the Holocaust, perpetuates the idea that the Holocaust is one of few major human rights atrocities. From fifth to eighth grade students read The Devil’s Arithmetic, Night, and Number the Stars; in high school, students read The Book Thief, also about the Holocaust. The Long Way Gone, a memoir about the civil war in Sierra Leone, is read by high school seniors and is the only other book about human rights required by the ELA Department. Currently, there is no required reading about environmental injustices, Japanese internment camps, apartheid, the Rwandan genocide, or the genocide of Indigenous persons in America. We are asking you to expand historical fiction beyond the Holocaust and to bring awareness to violence committed against BIPOC.

The ELA Departments only requires students to read two books about racism against Black persons in America - both of which are historical and neither of which are read in high school. Though the district requires students to read The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Chains in intermediate and middle school, there is no required anti-racist reading for high school students. This promotes the idea that we live in a post-racial world, a world where we focus on how far we have come, rather on how far we still have to go. We are asking you to require students of all ages to read about historical and modern racism. 

English teachers in our school district teach their students to think critically and to ask questions, and we are grateful for that. But, we believe that the education that BRRSD provides can be enhanced by diversity. To the teachers who deliberately choose documentaries and texts highlighting the voices of the marginalized, we sincerely thank you. To those who have not, we challenge you to consider why that has been. BRRSD has a responsibility to ensure that the books read in every classroom promote diversity and challenge racist ideas. We are joining together because we believe that the ELA Departments and its outstanding teachers have the power to contribute to the movement for racial justice by changing reading requirements. 

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