How the American Dirt Controversy Made Me Rethink My Curriculum

The newfound controversy surrounding Jeanine Cummins’ novel, American Dirt, has been a whirlwind of opinions and emotions for readers and educators alike. As a teacher, I have taken this moment as an opportunity to pause and reconsider my curriculum choices to ensure that I am providing a broad range of perspectives for my students. Here is how the American Dirt debate has made me rethink my curriculum.

Understanding the Controversy

If you have somehow managed to miss the buzz surrounding American Dirt, let me catch you up. The novel tells the story of a Mexican mother and her son who face unimaginable hardships as they flee their home country and make their way to the United States in search of a better life. Initially praised by critics and popular authors alike, it soon became apparent that many in the Latinx community had concerns.

Critics argue that Cummins’ work is fraught with stereotypes, cultural appropriation, and problematic depictions of Mexican people and culture. Many were disturbed by the fact that Cummins, a white woman, had profited off of telling a story that was not her own. The ensuing backlash has sparked important conversations about representation in literature, authorship, and diversity in publishing.

Rethinking My Curriculum

As an educator, it is my responsibility to curate reading lists for my students that provide diverse experiences and insights from different backgrounds. While examining the American Dirt controversy, I realized there were some key areas where I could improve my own curriculum.

1. Prioritizing Authentic Voices: One significant argument against American Dirt is that Cummins may not have had the necessary personal experience to tell this particular story authentically. In response, I sought out texts written by Latinx authors that provide an accurate representation of their own experiences to integrate into our class discussions.

2. Encouraging Critical Thinking: I began discussing controversies like American Dirt with my students to equip them with the ability to analyze and question the stories they read. By comparing and contrasting multiple perspectives, students can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

3. Broadening Our Reading List: The American Dirt debate made me realize how essential it is to expose students to a broad range of literary experiences. I expanded my curriculum to include works from diverse authors, including but not limited to, marginalized voices.

4. Fostering Awareness About Cultural Appropriation: As an educator, it is important for me to address the issue of cultural appropriation in literature directly. By talking about such issues in class, I hope to foster sensitivity towards other cultures and inspire students to be more respectful.

Moving Forward

Few controversies offer the chance for such reflection and growth as that which surrounds American Dirt. This debate has provided a much-needed wake-up call for me as an educator, pushing me to reconsider my curriculum choices and seek out authentic voices from diverse backgrounds. By using this controversy as a learning opportunity, I am striving to create a more inclusive education experience for my students.

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