“…A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!”
— Freedoms Plow, Langston Hughes
To the Common Core Standards Validation Committee:
My name is Jodi Payne, and I am a current student at Chapman University in Orange, CA. Presently, I am headed toward the MACI program, which would allow me to obtain my Bachelors and Master’s Degree in Integrated Educational Studies with an emphasis in English by 2020. As a future educator, the Common Core Standards are of upmost importance to me, for they will be the backbone of my own curriculum once I enter the classroom. Because of this, I would like to address several disservices the Committee has dealt to America’s students through the narrow confines of the Common Core Literature Standards and the current AP Literature Reading List.
Among the state standards for 11th and 12th grade students is as follows:
“Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.”
This standard, in accordance with the content of the AP Literature Reading List, is deeply concerning. From 1700 and onward into the early 1900s, it is absolutely astounding that a sweeping majority of the authors featured are white, able-bodied, heterosexual men of the upper-middle class. Moreover, the texts covered— that are considered “the classics” of American literature— are anything but inclusive or culturally insightful. Where are the non-white men— Black, Asian, Native American men? Where are the non-white women (or women in general, for that matter)? Where are the pieces centered around the harsh realities of this “foundational” America you are so intent on depicting— realities like slavery, racism, religious oppression, xenophobia, sexual orientational exclusivity, poverty, hate crimes? All of these are heavily present throughout American history, yet they are present only in “token” works. And of these “token” works, many of them are still written by Caucasian men who have arguably abused their privilege in attempting to “whitesplain” the African American story.
There are grave consequences to this kind of negligence. It teaches young black men and women that their history is unimportant history. It teaches them that the only way for their stories to be relayed is through the lenses of white, privileged men who cannot possibly articulate with accuracy or passion the atrocities the African American community has faced throughout the development of America. It teaches the same to young men and women from Asian and Latino and Native American decent— seeing as they are even less documented in the AP Literature Reading List. Furthermore, it conditions young white students to view culture and the beauties of diversity in their country through the narrowed perception offered by these “token” texts of multicultural America. This not only perpetuates the disconnect among populations in extremely harmful ways, it solidifies in the minds of the youth where they belong in the grand scheme of society. How small-minded it is for educators not to hold literature that mirrors multicultural experience to the highest degree of understanding. How negligent it is to look at a diverse and ever-growing United States and provide such a non-inclusive and non-representative group of novels to its students.
If we are to educate the future citizens of our nation in entirety, we must construct a curriculum that supports the multi-faceted, complex make-up of the American public school classroom. I implore the Common Core Standards Validation Committee to review its standards and how they are executed in such multicultural schools. I sincerely plead that the current state of what we deem to be “classic American literature” be reevaluated in such a way that all students can be represented. Only then will teachers truly be able to educate on concepts of true inclusivity and social progression.