#DisruptTexts: The Purging of Classic Literature from Schools

by Christopher Paslay

The celebration of one group should not depend on the disruption of another, as true wisdom and knowledge are not zero-sum.

Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book critic, recently wrote an article titled “Even Homer Gets Mobbed,” about an educational movement called #DisruptTexts, which Gurdon describes as a “sustained effort” to “deny children access to literature,” which is encouraging schoolteachers to “purge” and “propagandize” classic pieces of literature. 

“The subtle complexities of literature are being reduced to the crude clanking of ‘intersectional’ power struggles,” Gurdon writes, and explains how Seattle English teacher Evin Shinn tweeted in 2018 that he’d “rather die” than teach “The Scarlet Letter,” unless Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel is used to “fight against misogyny and slut-shaming.”

Gurdon’s article also mentioned how Heather Levine, a Massachusetts English teacher from Lawrence High School, bragged on twitter about how her school got rid of Homer’s Odyssey.

“Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from our curriculum last year!” Levine tweeted. Gurdon contacted Levine for comment, but Levine replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.”

For the record, Lawrence High School has officially denied removing the Odyssey from their curriculum Thursday on Fox News, and has stated that they do incorporate classic texts into their reading lists — which puts the school at odds with what is being stated publicly by one of their own English teachers. 

Despite Lawrence High School denying removing the Odyssey from their school, #DisruptTexts is still gaining traction across America. 

What exactly is #DisruptTexts? According to their website:

Disrupt Texts is a crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve. It is part of our mission to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices.

In short, it’s identity politics fueled by polarizing Critical Race Theory.

One of the founding members of Disrupt Texts is Tricia Ebarvia, who is currently an English teacher at Conestoga High School, PA, — which is right outside of Philadelphia — where she has taught world literature, American literature, and AP Lit, among other subjects; her resume is quite impressive. 

She wrote an article last year for the International Literacy Association titled, “Disrupting Your Texts: Why Simply Including Diverse Voices Is Not Enough,” where she encourages English teachers to “disrupt texts” by dumping lesson plans based on universal themes in literature, and adopting activities that racialize classic novels and teach students to view such texts through the lens of racism and white oppression.

In the article Ebarvia asks literature teachers to “resist colorblind readings of texts,” to “consider the role that race and whiteness have played in your own socialization, particularly around your beliefs about schooling,” and to “begin with the premise that public schools never intended to educate all children equally and look for the ways in which this holds true today.”

She states that “curriculum has never been neutral, but always ideological,” and ironically, her remedy isn’t to eliminate political ideology by focusing on concrete skills and universal themes that unify the races, but by injecting more political ideology into the lesson, ideology rooted in zero-sum identity politics.

The movement to “disrupt texts,” like modern anti-racism, comes from a place of breaking things down, not building them up. Notice the movement isn’t pro, but anti. Notice it doesn’t call for cooperation, but for disruption.  This is the fundamental difference between classic multiculturalism — which aims to bring diversity through celebration — and modern anti-racism — which aims to root out so-called “whiteness” by polarizing students and teachers by race and dividing them into tribal camps: inherently racist privileged whites on one side, and victimized and oppressed people of color on the other.

Such approaches may be one reason why the international performance gap in education between the United States and the rest of the world is widening. The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test administered every three years that measures what fifteen-year-old students have learned in math, reading, and science. According to an article in US News & World Report, American researchers were troubled “that 30 countries scored higher than U.S. students in math and that the performance gap between top-performing and lower-performing students is widening, especially in reading.”

In April, Rowman & Littlefield is releasing my new book, titled, Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s Schools, where I use both existing research and anecdotal classroom observations to reveal how the use of things like white fragility theory and anti-racism are having unintended negative impacts on our schools and classrooms; I also briefly examine the #DisruptTexts movement as well.  

Anyone who is concerned about critical race theory and the indoctrination of our students in identity politics should read the book, which is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Educators should not be “disrupting texts” in our children’s schools. The racialization of classic literature is misguided, and although the movement may have good intentions, we should base instruction around synergy, not dichotomy. The celebration of one group should not depend on the disruption of another, as true wisdom and knowledge are not zero-sum. Let’s cooperate and celebrate, not accuse and cancel. Instead of focusing on superficial skin color, let’s use the universal themes found in classic literature — like courage, friendship, and redemption — to bring us together, and make our students critical thinkers and upstanding future citizens.