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    Does reading classical literature in school kill the love of reading?

    Does reading classical literature (written predominantly by white male writers) still have a place among young people today? A lot of high school students lose their interest in reading when they are instructed to read books that don’t seem to fit in the society that we live in today. It may not even be that they hate reading all together, but that they hate reading books they find boring. For example, when the Hunger Games came out, every kid had their hands on a Hunger Games novel, even people that said they detest reading. The Hunger Games is much more action packed and fast moving compared to many older books, and it still deals with really important themes and issues that you can find in classic books as well. Not only that, but a lot of classics are casually racist or sexist. Is it right to keep teaching books that preach hateful ideas, just because they are "classics?" Will changing the curriculum to books that relate to high school students more, encourage more young people to read? Does learning English Literature lose its meaning if the classics are not taught? What is more beneficial in the long run?

    • I feel like this ties into a common misconception of what English class is for. The point of English class, as I understand it, is not just or even primarily to encourage a love of reading. The point is to teach a very specific set of skills pertaining to how to read something, as well as to understand where all of the literary references we see in our everyday lives came from. The works that are read in English class are picked, by and large, because they accomplish those aims, and any attempts to replace them would need to be able to function similarly. There is an argument to be made that required reading should be more diverse than what we've currently got, of course; but just because a book is enjoyable or has some "important" message (whatever that means) doesn't mean it's suitable to be taught in an English class. People can always read whatever they want on their own time. – Debs 5 years ago
    • Hunger Games is unsophisticated pulp and does not require anything from the reader. Classical literature tells a story using metaphor, which must be uncovered through higher level thinking. This is why classical literature is taught in schools regardless of the race of the author. Using race as an argument is not constructive in this case, and is quite frankly, just racist. – kim 5 years ago
    • I'd just like to clarify, that I did not mean classic literature should be completely eradicated from the system. Many classics do teach great skills on how to read and these classics are taught because they were one of the first to introduce the ideas they present and they impacted english literature greatly. I was just wondering if anyone else felt that some of the ideas presented in these books could be outdated. In the english classes I've taken, we often discussed how these books impacted society at the time, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, or Jane Eyre. I used the Hunger Games as an example only because it discusses issues pertaining to war and government which can be applied to real life as well. Just because a novel is a classic, does not mean it can only be understood through a "higher level of thinking". I think race and gender of an author is important because often times, authors include racism or misogyny in their work, and students are forced to ignore it, even if this kind of violence is directed at them. For example, 1984 had misogynistic undertones, just like many other books, and it loses its value to me because of that. I'm not sure if this counts as a classic, but I was reading the second Narnia book recently and was appalled at the amount of racism that existed in a series that is praised and cherished by so many people. My point, is that many students don't see the value of classical literature because it's becoming more difficult to understand WHY it is so important, therefore they seem to lose interest in reading itself. Shouldn't we be more critical of the classics taught in school, instead of just giving it so much value just because it's a classic? Shouldn't a variety of books be taught, old and new, to get a full understanding of reading and language itself? Why do we need to praise books that are racist or misogynistic, but give it a pass just because it was written in a different time period? – IElias 5 years ago
    • I agree with your argument for a critical reading of Classic (and Classical!) texts. As a teacher, I can also vouch for the enjoyment my students experience when reading novels such as 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Jane Eyre' etc - they can enjoy, yet also apply a critical lens to their reading. Rigorous textual analysis doesn't ask students to 'ignore' those themes and ideas which challenge their own cultural context - far from it. And texts which appear to privilege views at variance with our own make for important examination. I support your varied text selections. I also agree that many contemporary texts are as complex and worthy of study as the dear old 'classics'. 'The Hunger Games' is richly allegorical and figurative. Like any text, its value may be determined by the interplay between text and reader, its intertextuality, its cultural 'constructedness' and the extent to which it prompts question and debate. – garjo 5 years ago
    • I think it's important for anyone of any age to be exposed to literature widely regarded as having much literary weight. Having said that, it seems that it's always the same authors and books taught. While Shakespeare's texts are timeless, something along the lines of Marlowe or Jonson would certainly make things more interesting. In terms of novels, it's vital to be able to debate whether something is truly 'Classic' in order to progress with English. I agree that we need more diversity, but some books are 'Classic' for a reason. – Thomas1927 5 years ago
    • I think we need to be rid of the idea that reading old texts is inherently joyless, or that texts that are the product of their time aren't read in context. A text written during a period of history where racism, for instance, was entirely normalised isn't inherently promoting it by its inclusion. Some things age better than others, and not everything is everyone's cup of tea, but if the students can't find any joy in any classics they probably won't in contemporary popular literature either. There are plenty of classics that were neither by white male authors and plenty that were ardently against the prejudices of their times. Likewise, the phrase "classics," paints with a broad brush. The late Toni Morrison's Beloved is indisputably considered a contemporary classic and it's certainly not casually racist or sexist material authored by white male authors. Going back a little further, Virginia Woolf likewise has assumed classic status that has not been questioned, and her writing as a whole could be considered antithetical to the stereotype of the hateful old white man cantankerously writing boring books. Often, particularly since the turn of the last century, what has defined a classic has been not only its merits as an artistic work but the ways in which it has succeeded in going against the grain and in anticipating social change. I'd like to know what works you're referring to that are classics that preach hateful ideas, given that classics have an overall proclivity for being forward-thinking, within reason for the periods in which they were written. – benjamindmuir 5 years ago

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    Latest Comments

    I absolutely loved this article! It’s a very interesting take on love when it comes to fictional characters. I think I’ve always loved characters that I felt like I had to protect, for example, Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or Rue from The Hunger Games. I think when good writing creates such well-rounded characters it’s quite easy to forget that they aren’t real people.

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    This is a beautifully written article! Your point about writing about what deserves to change really struck with me. It’s really easy to feel powerless in the world that we live in today, but you reminded me that creative writing IS powerful, regardless of what society might think of it. Thanks for this article, it inspired me to continue writing.

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