At the risk of being kicked out of my next English Language Arts District Department Chair meeting, I am here to say, “Crush the Classics!” in the high school classroom. After eleven years of teaching English Language Arts/Reading from grades 9-12, I have come to the definitive conclusion that the classics need to go. Like I tell my students – “This isn’t a doughnut shop. If you want it sugarcoated, you have come to the wrong place.”
The classics are just too un-relatable to today’s modern student and are too difficult to read with their archaic language. Students need topics to which they can relate and characters with whom they can identify. How long will we continue to assign a classic novel and have to dissect it in its entirety with the whole class? How long will we tolerate students not actually reading the assigned novel, but “Sparknoting” the entire thing? Isn’t it our job to foster a love of reading and to build every student’s confidence in his/her reading ability?
Yet, year after year, we continue this same vicious cycle of assigning classic novels that students do not read or at best agonizingly make a half-hearted attempt to read. I have had hundreds of students say to me, “Miss, I haven’t read a whole book since sixth grade”. That is a startling reality, but students are skimming by using internet summaries of chapters or waiting for the teacher to do a read-aloud in class. It is not that these students are incapable or even unwilling to read, but who wants to read something in which you have absolutely no interest?
There is a plethora of young adult contemporary literature available at our fingertips to utilize in the classroom, but we English teachers are terrified to go against the grain. This new young adult literature can be used to teach all of the same literary themes and skills now being taught using the boring old classics. My greatest moments as a teacher have been when a student walks up to me and says, “Miss, I read the entire book and I loved it! Do you have any more just like it?” And so I ask – for how many more years will teachers be forced to choose from the “approved” reading list that contains only the classics?
I know I just lost all the A.P. teachers!
We need to give our students venturing off to college the confidence and self-respect of knowing that “Yes! I can read an entire novel”. As teachers, we have a responsibility to take the fear and torture out of reading for our students and encourage them to explore literature independently.
The world will not come to an end if we stop teaching the classics in the high school classroom. This will not result in Armageddon – I promise. If enough teachers stood up and said, “Enough is enough”, maybe we could bring about a nationwide change resulting in students who actually enjoy reading. What a novel idea! Hey, I said I wasn’t going to sugarcoat it; I didn’t say I wouldn’t end with a bad pun!