What factors are considered when choosing what to teach in a high school curriculum? In a course called Adolescent Literature I took earlier this year at Brown University, my professor, Laura Snyder, introduced me to the acronym RRSSVP to measure text complexity. In any given book, are the relationships among ideas and characters involved or embedded? Is there richness, in other words, does the text possesses mature information through literary devices? Is the structure organized in ways that are elaborate or unusual? Is the style intricate? Is the vocabulary difficult and context-dependent? Lastly, is the author’s purpose implicit and sometimes ambiguous? If these are the factors that make a text complex enough to teach, there is no reason why all books that students read need to come from a classic High School Literary Canon in which the median publication year is 1915.
A high school teacher gave a talk in the same Adolescent Literature class. She mentioned how she used to teach these classic books but stopped because her students didn’t enjoy them as they couldn’t connect to them. She changed her entire curriculum to adolescent literature and the results were extraordinary. Everyone passed, reading scores were off the charts, and the student’s love of reading grew immensely because they could actually relate to situations that were present in the stories they were assigned. Although there are certain benefits to reading classic authors, most students are not affected by renaissance upper-class drama or someone being killed in a guillotine, simply because it seems so archaic and far away. They are, however, deeply moved by novels such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas which include stories of police violence, racialized poverty, and the search for identity. Young adult books are surrounded by a stigma of immaturity, but according to the previously mentioned factors, contemporary young adult fiction still contains the same messages and literary complexity as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Dickens, while also representing important racial, political, and economic struggles children face in our world today.
There is still an immense amount of growth and development that needs to happen in the Young Adult Literature community. Though the number of novels written about diverse groups has increased, many of these stories are written by white authors, and the publishing community is still predominantly focused on white, middle-class stories. Additionally, contemporary young adult fiction gives insight into real-life trauma of today’s youth, but many of these topics are considered “taboo” and are still being banned from classrooms all over the world. By using these stories in an academic setting, young adult literature has the potential to give a voice to silent or underrepresented communities and start conversations that can lead to a more informed and accepting generation.
Examples of young adult novels that are being taught in schools today:
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Gabi A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
- Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Additionally, graphic novels such as:
- Maus by Art Spiegelman
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang