Why Do We Read Classics in School?


Alyssa Morrone

Classic books, such as these, are some of the most widely read and know books of all time. But are they still conveying their strong messages in the classroom?

Alyssa Morrone, Staff Writer

We have been reading many of the same books in English class for years. Authors like Steinbeck and Salinger have consistently been a large part of many students’ literary education, where any one of their novels have been broken down to their every word. But, truly, what makes an American classic, and do they still hold the proper values for the current generation?

Some of the oldest pieces of literature taught in classrooms are the works of the infamous Shakespeare. His plays-written hundreds of years ago have withstood the test of time and are filled with lengthy, poetic dialogue and literary devices. Although, due to the outdated use of English, these plays can be hard to understand, and unconnectable in their lessons and themes. 

“I love Shakespeare and think he is very funny and his plays are full of wisdom, but they can be very hard to translate to modern English and contain so many references/idioms/allusions to his time period that they can be very hard to understand and pull meaning from,” says Eric Noble, English teacher at SJHHS.

However, these books can still have value to students, if not in their literal themes and messages. Reading comprehension is an important skill that is practiced when reading such high-level writing and is a skill that needs to be practiced for improvement. Having good reading comprehension is important when applying to schools and jobs, in developing young minds, and is a necessary life skill.

Not all books taught in school are as old as Shakespeare. Books such as 1984, Catcher in the Rye, The Handmaid’s Tale, and To Kill a Mockingbird are among many books that have been published within the past decade which are taught in classrooms across the nation.

These books all have very deep themes that readers are still connecting with. To Kill a Mockingbird is considered one of the best books ever written to many educators and has touched generations of readers with its with is a coming-of-age tale and insightful commentary on racism and discrimination. 1984 has sparked thoughts in many readers about our individuality and the steady rise of our dependence on technology.

Books like To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984 are very significant to many readers and have messages comprehensible to the current generation. However, a problem that is often faced in books, including these, is the lack of diversity in regards to authorism.

While these authors are undeniably clever, hundreds of other writers of different color, religion, sexuality, and gender have written many pieces of literature over the past hundreds of years, talking about their own stories and experiences, all of which are not explored nor picked as educational pieces for students.

Diversification of our literature is extremely important as it will lend a more balanced view to our extremely diverse population. To make room for a more diverse catalog, some classics would have to be replaced, so I would argue that whatever we choose to replace any classic literature with should provide an equivalent level of quality of writing and wisdom”

— Mr. Noble

Diversity is something that needs to be focused on in schools and should be ensured so that all students can relate and see themselves represented in some way.

If we were to add new books, it could also pave the way for books of a more current generation to be taught in classrooms as well. Books that were written about the current turmoil of our world, as well as classics to balance all aspects of life being taught.

It is important to address, however, that getting newer books into curriculums is a very hard and long process, which lies not on the English teachers themselves, but the school administrations.

“For the most part, English teachers are always dreaming about teaching some new novel, but it comes down to how to get it approved, which is a challenging process, and how to get funding to purchase those materials, which can be very challenging if not impossible,” says Noble.

These are problems that hold back new books from being added into curriculums and are the reason that new books are not introduced to students.

Overall, it is hard to truly determine what books should be taught in schools, as there is such a vast amount of literature, all containing different outlooks on the world. While these classics hold literary importance to readers of all ages, the question of their value in comparison to more contemporary works remains, and spark a new, but very predominant question: Is there still the possibility for new options?