Remove Bias From the English Curriculum

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Many Students debate whether or not we should be reading the Bible in a secular school like Townsend Harris. Some feel that there is a bias present, which allows students of Abrahamic religions to gain an unfair advantage. The primary reason defenders offer is that the Bible is essential to understanding the Western canon. However, this is where our curriculum lacks in sense, as we study the Bible senior year instead of learning it as a fundamental text freshman year.

If we are to read it as a prelude to the classics of Western literature, the Bible should be a part of the freshman curriculum and then lead into texts that are based upon it or reference it, so that students unfamiliar with Abrahamic religions are better equipped to analyze texts that include Christian symbolism. Instead, only seniors take a humanities class that includes the Bible as part of the required reading. If the Bible were taught in freshman year, all students could perform on an equal level as they are already acquainted with the common themes.

Thus, while there is validity to the argument that it is important to read the Bible to help students understand the Western canon, because of poor curriculum choices, the school does not actually facilitate this learning.  Given this, if we are to read the Bible without any clear plan for applying it to other texts in the western tradition, there’s no reason why we can’t read other religious texts in addition to the Bible.

There is a large facet of prominent world literature left untouched in the curriculum. This presents us with the opportunity to expand or modify the curriculum. Students can still study classic works of great merit and relate them to other religious texts. Take E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. A classic of the canon, this novel consistently refers to ideals in Hinduism and could contribute to our understanding of history during the British imperial time and the appropriation of Hindu culture by foreigners. If we were to add such a text to the THHS curriculum, we could also study excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas to further our comprehension of the text.

A current work in the freshman curriculum, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, is rife with Islamic connections, but students are never given Islamic texts to study in order to supplement their understanding. Integrating religious texts in the lesson will only increase a student’s ability to recognize worldly connections and adeptly apply what he or she learns in years to come. Both these examples offer common sense solutions to the objections that many students voice to studying only one religion’s sacred text during their time at THHS. We need not merely stick texts in from other cultures for the sake of being more diverse; we can continue to study the classics of western literature, but we can study classics that would invite us to view the sacred texts of other traditions.

We live in a diverse and heavily interconnected world. Exposing students to some of that diversity through the literature of other cultures would educate new generations on how to better understand one another.