In this post our intern, Ben Kostyack, raises questions about the value of the literary canon. Read his take on the subject, and then weigh in with your own.
In high school English everyone reads the classics. The curriculum contains To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and various Shakespeare plays. After we recently stumbled through Macbeth in my 12th grade AP English Literature class, my classmates and I questioned the reasoning behind why we need to read these outdated books.
First of all, the books don’t correspond with modern times. Many of the issues presented in the books are either gone or fading away as society evolves. After my classmates got bored with complaining, my teacher had her say. Her opinion was that we need to understand the problems of the past so we don’t make the same mistakes in the future.
In my opinion, that’s why we have a history class. In English, we should be reading the bestsellers of today, and books by contemporary authors. Not only would the plots and issues make sense to us, the style of writing would display the acceptable ways of writing today.
Reading the classics is not detrimental to the youth of today. It is just unnecessary. It is interesting to read stories from important times in our history, but the knowledge acquired from these books can only go as far as a classroom discussion.
Luckily for high school kids all over the country, I think even the classics will get too old someday. Soon the popular and groundbreaking books of today will become classics, and the books we know as classics will be treated like ancient scripture.
Should the classics be required reading? Leave a comment below.