The question “Should classics be taught in schools?” implies that classics have value, but also that classics are viewed in a negative perspective. Classic literature is defined as literature of any language in a period notable for the excellence and enduring quality of its writers’ works, often described as “timeless”. I believe that classics should be taught in the school curriculum, but not in the way many teachers currently do so. In the status quo, students often complain that teachers drag out the books and make students do excessive worksheets, as Billy Collins describes in Introduction to Poetry as “…all they want to do/ is tie the poem to a chair with rope/ and torture a confession out of it. /They begin beating it with a hose/ to find out what it really means.
” Classic literature should be taught in a method where students have more freedom, are given more choices, and can experience and enjoy for themselves the value and resonance of classics. Teachers across the nation have spoken out on what classics have to offer students, and included how their own students responded. Sally Law, an English teacher, wrote, “From the linguistic perspective, studying classic literature from the Western Canon affords students of English the opportunity to understand, analyze, and evaluate language quite different from their own…
we must safeguard the teaching of classic literature or risk depriving our young people of the wealth of knowledge, enjoyment, and sense of heritage and history to be gained from our classics.” (“Classic works of literature still have a place in today’s classrooms: theguardian.com) She emphasizes that through classic literature, students will build their skills in the art of language through absorbing text not written in modern styles and will gain new insight on the history of the world. Another teacher from New York agreed in a statement about a student of hers who read The Grapes of Wrath saying “His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening,” after he exclaimed to her “All these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” (“Teach the Books, Touch the Heart: NYTimes.com) Other educators spoke about how classic literature teaches students in a very powerful manner about the true human nature.
Many of the most famous classics are not simply the plot on the surface. For example, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not just a love story. Woven through the play are themes that people in modern times can relate to, like family feuds and keeping secrets from loved ones. In an edition of “Knowing Ourselves: How the Classics Strengthen School and Society”, Peter Dodington, a teacher, said, regarding classics like Homer’s Odyssey, “The ancients dedicates themselves to figuring out what the ‘good life’ is, and they did so in a way that’s clear and comprehensible to students. Studying them in our schools helps students think deeply about who they want to become and how they can achieve that.” Ara Cho also wrote that classics “teach readers important lessons about human nature (life lessons pertaining to virtue and vice)” and are “well written and deal forcefully with human nature.
” (Session 5- The Importance of Classical Literature: foundersclassical.com) Thus, it is easy to see that teachers, writers, and many regular adults agree that classics should be taught in schools. However, these people are not the ones that have to read the book and do the assignments. Students have so often complained that teachers drag out the unit on the classic for so long that after finishing the book, they’re left with nothing to do but pointless worksheets. They also state that many teachers don’t adequately teach or explain the books despite using them to dictate their English classes’ curriculums. Teachers and students alike have also said that classics destroy students’ love of reading, devalue their prior experience, ignore interest, don’t meet the needs of all readers, and force students to learn and understand a form of writing they won’t use.
I, as a current student about to enter high school, agree with many of these arguments, which is why I propose we teach classics in a different way for the benefit of current and future generations. There are many different ways, with many different levels of change, to adjust how educators teach classic literature in schools. Many teachers have started to give their students options during the classics units. My current reading teacher gave us 4 choices: The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, Call of the Wild, and Animal Farm. She played us the first chapter of the audiobook of each classic, and allowed us to choose one to read. If you finished, you could continue to read the others.
I personally liked this method, because teachers could give recommendations, students could pick the ones they found interesting, and then if they finished early, they could continue to read the other books. Another option would be to listen to an audiobook of the story (although it’s imperative the reader is unanimously acceptable; I once listened to the audio version of The Pearl by John Steinbeck in which the reader spoke with a dramatic climax in every sentence, it was horrible), and then instead of worksheets, ask students to take notes so that they can use them as references in discussion groups afterwards. Many students may not like not having to just listen to the book, so they can have a copy of the book and read along if they want. Instead of worksheets, teachers could do games or puzzles about themes and literary devices in the story. Lastly, teachers could ask an entire class’s students to pick a classic that everyone wants to read or wouldn’t mind reading, let them read at their own pace, and then lastly have discussions and maybe small, individual worksheets or puzzles instead of large, domineering packets. The key when teaching the classical literature and making it a good experience for all students is to make them enjoy it.
Many students who toil through reading a classic as a class and then doing fat packets develop a negative perspective and/or dislike for reading in general. When you allow the students to have fun in their work with the classical literature, they gain a happier experience with the book, and possibly even nudge them into reading another. In conclusion, I believe classical literature is universally valuable, as do many others around the globe. They’re beautiful, timeless, and resonant; generations continue to love them continuously. However, the way that we teach and embed them into the younger generations is only making them dislike classics, and reading in general. We need to stop thinking that they need to understand the true “meaning”, and let them discover the treasures of the books with guidance.
We need to reform the way educators instill classical literature and its values so that we may truly appreciate and continue to pass on the quality classics that we have loved time and time again.