March 21, 1998 in Nation/World

Minority Authors Added To List Of Required High School Books

Julian Guthrie San Francisco Examiner
 

The city’s Board of Education has approved a resolution requiring teachers to use more minority authors in high school English classes, a plan that falls well short of a proposal to set quotas on what books students could read.

The San Francisco school board voted unanimously late Thursday to require teachers to introduce at least one minority author in each high school grade level.

In addition, high school teachers will no longer be required to teach Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” These books - previously the only literature required for graduation - will now be optional.

“The district has just made writers of color part of the core curriculum and, in doing so, San Francisco is sending a message to the rest of the country that this is a new day in public education,” said Steve Phillips, a board member who earlier advocated requiring seven of 10 high school literature books to be by minority authors.

That quota drew sharp criticism from teachers who said they needed flexibility in reading selections. The quota also was opposed by Superintendent Bill Rojas.

The requirement that was approved by the board followed four hours of testimony from students, parents, teachers and members of the clergy who spoke in favor of a race-based book list.

Of 50 people who stood in long lines to speak, only five opposed the plan. Several of the dissenters were booed into silence.

Although high school English teachers say students are already reading from a multicultural book list, the resolution requires that every teacher introduce at least one book by a minority author at each grade level.

San Francisco Unified School District, California’s fifth-largest school system, has a student population that is 87 percent ethnic minority.

“I read all these dead white men and I’m tired of it,” said Duc Nim, a senior at Galileo High School. “What can I learn about other races by reading ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Odyssey’? I think there is so much racism in this country because we don’t understand one another.”

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