Sunday, March 18, 2012

What’s Up with English Curriculums in Canadian High Schools?

This morning I heard part of an interesting CBC radio discussion among three well known Canadian publishers about publishing and bookselling. Those who don’t live in Canada might not be aware that keeping Canadian publishing alive has always been an uphill battle. One of the main reasons well-established and respected publishing houses, of all sizes, still exist (although some have fallen) after thirty years is because they’re subsidized by government grants. This has allowed Canadian publishers to publish some truly amazing poets, novelists, and short fiction writers, a number of whom have won major international prizes.

So why, the interviewees asked, are high school English curriculums still showcasing writers like Tennessee Williams, and requiring students to study older books like The Chrysalids, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies (which my son just finished reading this year in Grade 11 English class)? For crying out loud, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies, although fine books, were on my high school reading list 35 years ago! Not only is the required list outdated, it seriously lacks Canadian content, although my daughter did reading Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in IB English 12 six years ago, along with To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. As a Canadian writer, I find the neglect of Canadian authors offensive. The panelists pointed the finger at provincial governments who seemed not to care much about English reading lists, and they should.

It’s hard enough to get teenagers to read, so why subject them to dated material? There are wonderful Canadian science fiction, fantasy, and mystery writers, humorists, novelists, and so forth to entice kids to want to read again. Why not give students a choice but with more current material? Publishers and authors need readers, school curriculums need an overhaul. It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, it all comes down to money, doesn’t it? Pulling out those same books year after year is a lot cheaper than buying new. Still, I’d like to see someone place a stack of Canadian books under the noses of decision-makers, make them do their homework, and then ask them how much they value Canadian literacy and Canadian culture?

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at and on Kindle at


Julie H. Ferguson said...

Well said, Debra!

Betty Dravis said...

I am not a Canadian, but I agree with what you're saying. I'd like to see the American schools offer something more current, also. For example, a Stephen King, Pat Conroy or even a Danielle Steel book...or best yet one by me, Betty Dravis. :-)

I'd love to see my Canadian friend Cheryl Kaye Tardif's books on the Canadian school must-read lists.

Thanks for sharing this fine article.

Betty Dravis