I’m Tired Of Learning Traumatizing Lessons in English Class

It is irresponsible to ask students to silently stomach atrocities many of us know very personally.

  • Saturday, May 8, 2021 10:22am
  • Opinion
Katherine Kirschner

Katherine Kirschner

Note: This commentary covers the triggering topics of sexual assault and trauma. If these make you uncomfortable, we urge you to stop reading. If you are have been a victim of sexual assault, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or contact the Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE. The Vashon DOVE Project also provides a wide range of services to support domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, find out more at vashondoveproject.org.

In mid-April, I started an important and long-overdue conversation in my Junior English class at Vashon High School. The class had begun the book Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and within the first 20 pages, I had already begun to recognize the narrative.

For those of you who don’t know, this book is one that deals very personally with assault and abuse. I want to be cognizant that this book is one of the few books in our curriculum by and about a Black woman. It serves a different and important function in English class to most of the books we read, but they are all a part of a larger pattern. And while it is more graphic and more explicitly about these same themes, my issue is not with it specifically, but rather the wider culture.

Our society spoon-feeds women assault stories from a very young age, and I got sick of hearing them. This led to an impassioned speech given in my English class, and then again in my teacher’s fourth-period class, and now I write this commentary, hoping to gain community support for my effort.

My teacher was kind enough to offer an alternate book to read for those of us who find the material too difficult to manage. While this is a good solution for some books, it still places students in an uncomfortable position where they must decide between a more thorough education and their own safety. Furthermore, repeatedly subjecting students to this kind of material desensitizes them to it, and it teaches many young women that these stories are simply a reality of their lives.

People socialized as women grow up hearing these assault narratives over and over, told as bedtime stories and warnings and we learn the morals well. Don’t walk alone at night, make sure someone always knows where you are, and yell fire, not rape. I don’t remember when I learned these lessons, but I know I’ll never forget them.

Fairy tales, the news, and family horror stories weave themselves into a waking nightmare and teach many of us that it’s not a question of if but when. Even if you do manage to escape childhood without your own nightmare to add to the pile, we’ve all been taught the same thing, both in class and out. Sometimes you have to read between the lines when the gender of a pig is aggressively emphasized, and sometimes it’s not even disguised when your teacher tells you to “pretend like it never happened.”

Autonomy is an illusion. Your body is not yours. No one is interested in protecting you. These are the lessons I learn every day, and honestly, it’s exhausting. Trying to fight these messages is a constant, daily battle, and without the proper support, it often feels like I’m fighting alone.

I’ve read this story almost every year since sixth grade, found it in Giambattista Basile’s Sleeping Beauty, the hunt scene of Lord of the Flies, Curley’s Wife in Of Mice and Men. Women are taught that our place is to be assaulted and die: nameless, but with every crevice of our bodies described.

I’ve already learned my role in society, and yet English class is still determined to remind me of it. It’s the same every year. Trauma on a silver platter is still trauma, and when my grade depends on my interaction with it, you’ve barely stopped short of shoving it down my throat.

There is a place for these kinds of conversations; it’s important to discuss rape culture, but in general, these conversations are not actually happening. We are not discussing the genderedness of this kind of sexual trauma and abuse, and we are not discussing how we are going to combat it. Instead, we are exposing students to horrific and scarring content, and then grading their analysis of it, or debating whether or not the events count as assault. As though that is something up for interpretation.

There are a lot of ways school curriculum and culture are failing us — from sexual assault being woven in from a very early age, to a lack of diverse voices and perspectives. This is not something that can be fixed overnight, nor is it a problem with an easy solution. But it is something we need to change; it is irresponsible to ask students to silently stomach atrocities that many of us know very personally.

I want to be clear that this is not a direct attack against any individual. This is a systemic problem, and it takes systemic changes to fix. It’s bigger than any one person, it’s bigger than this school district, and it’s bigger than even this community. But right now this is what I have access to, and I decided I could no longer, in good conscience, continue to silence myself.

Katherine Kirschner is a junior at Vashon High School, a proud member of Vashon’s Teen Council, and co-chair of Washington State’s School Safety and Student Well-Being Advisory Committee Youth Advisory Council.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@vashonbeachcomber.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.vashonbeachcomber.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

As Delta Dawns, Islanders Need To Renew Precautions

We know now what can happen when we follow the rules: life returns to a semblance of normality.

x
Reflections on a Sweet Strawberry Festival

The Festival was filled with our traditional events and activities, but all with a focus on Vashon.

x
Energy Consumption Globally, and Locally, Is Too High

We are not taking the climate crisis seriously.

Vote Yes for Best Starts for Kids

Funding from this initiative has already resulted in direct benefits for Vashon youth.

x
Everything Must Change. What are the New Rules?

What we really need is some concrete guidance, a “to do” list.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
King County primary election candidates to watch | Roegner

With the Aug. 3 primary election, the public will narrow the field… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Massive reforestation effort needed in Washington and beyond | Brunell

Massive forest fires in the western parts of our country are not… Continue reading

x
Mukai Joins Mayoral Race, Hosts Day of Festival Fun

What says Strawberry Festival like the history of the strawberry on Vashon?

Here’s to Friendlier Fourths in the Future

There are people to see, and places to go, and good clean fun to be had.

Most Read