Junior Jaxon Willoughby reads “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Some of the novels taught at Pace are displayed on his desk. Photo: Meghna Singha

“The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Let the Great World Spin.” These are just three of the dozens of novels that are currently a part of the Pace Academy Upper School curriculum. And one may notice that they share a common theme: they are centered around a white, Christian male. While Pace has altered their curriculum in response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, there is still a lack of gender and religious diversity within the books that are assigned.

While novels such as “The Great Gatsby” include female figures, the woman is usually not the focal point of the narrative but rather a side character or a love interest. This seems a bit ironic because in our community, we are encouraged to suspend the gender stereotypes that have defined our nation. For years, men have been deemed the “dominate, more capable” sex. With this hackneyed mindset comes the idea that women are inferior, more emotional and not as competent.

While there are many people in our community who have a more progressive mindset, it is still vital to address the injustices and prejudices that women have faced in the past and present. Novels such as “Jane Eyre” and “Little Women” illustrate these issues in a great way, bringing to light the harsh and unfortunate reality that some overlook. This is not to say that books like “Hamlet” and “The Odyssey” should be removed from the curriculum. However, Pace would benefit from adding a few novels that do not revolve around the lives and conquests of men.

In addition to a lack of gender diversity, there is little to no religious variation in the books and novels we read and discuss in class. Throughout high school, I have read few novels about someone who is Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or a Buddhist. Pace does their best to promote diversity amongst the student body; however, when it comes to what is being assigned in class, this same sense of heterogeneity is lacking.

The reading lists for all four grades only contain two books that center around Judaism: “Maus” and “Man’s Search for Meaning.” While this may seem like a positive step forward, there are still some flaws. “Maus” is a satirical graphic novel, as opposed to a novel, about a very serious event. Both of these books hone in on the Holocaust and center around individuals’ experiences during this traumatic time. This is not to say that the Holocaust should not be taught and is not important; however, it would be nice to see more books that discuss Jewish characters living in different time periods with a variety of life experiences.

In books such as “Let the Great World Spin” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” Christianity is brought up numerous times, whether it is to discuss the idea of fate or make a connection to God. While this may be essential in understanding the characters’ development and motivations, it is disappointing to see an absence of representation of other religions in the novels we read.

The fictitious novel of “Life of Pi” is the only work that is read in the high school that incorporates Hindu and Islam. The protagonist, Pi, learns to accept these religions along with Christianity, refusing to only view one as prominent.

It is frustrating to be a part of a diverse student body, school and community when the same sense of diversity is not reflected in the material we study in class. In addition to gender and religion, almost every character in the novels we read is straight. The sparsity of content that features LGBTQ characters is troubling. The focus on straight, white, Christian men in the Pace curriculum needs to come to an end and align with the views that our community works to promote every day. 

There is currently work in progress to add more diverse books and novels to the reading list. Recently, English Department Chair Marsha Durlin consulted someone outside of Pace in an effort to add more inclusive texts to the Pace curriculum. Hopefully, Pace students and faculty will be seeing this change in the near future.

Get the discussion going! Leave a comment or reply below.