Do Kids Really Need to Read the Classics?

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Today’s USA Today has an awesome editorial by Patrick Williams. In it, he talks about howit’s the end of the summer and students who have been assigned summer reading are, well, maybe kinda sorta starting to think about cracking open the books. Troubling, since school starts everywhere within, oh, aa week or so.

Williams’ point is that there is such a dilemma within the education world about literature. Harry Potter’s world had books flying off the shelves the very minute it was released. Thus, kids read. But can anyone be surprised that kids want to read about Harry and nott, say, Silas Marner?

In high school, I absolutely devoured books on subjects I loved. I spent several months working and then re-working my way through “A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Oddessey.” But when it came to works like Dickens and Dickinsonwere known for, uh, sorry, too busy.

I’ve read loads of the so-called classics. Some are wonderful and deserve the term. Some, well, seem to fall into the old category, “If you can’t bedazzle them with brilliance, baffle ’em with B.S.” I mean, Henry James? Classic? Maybe, but so ridiculously dense that no one but someone with an English degree would ever find enjoyment in the book.

Why don’t we let kids pick? And not let them pick every slasher or sex book to read for assignments, but with as much great literature as there is, why not give them a list of say, 200 books to choose from? I realize this means some potential extra work for English teachers, but any English teacher worth his/her salt already loves to read!

I’ve read and received more from pop lit like Stephen King, Brett Easton Ellis and Wally Lambb than from Keats or Yeats. Thus, let’s stop trying to pretend “high” lit is the only thing that will give young people a taste of the English language.

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  • Alexis

    Amen!! Too often, I think that teachers try to shove the classics down kids’ throats. And this comes from someone with an English lit degree.

    There were classics that I had to read in college that I could have cared less about. Othello? Who cares about how this is interpreted from a racial or femininist perspective? Can you tell that literary criticism was my least favorite class? LOL

  • Susabelle

    Having a minor in English, I read all the “classics” too and really, never understood why they were supposed to wow me. As language changes, and interests change, the classics aren’t always the best reads.

    However, that being said…I homeschool my kids and every year I download a list of recommended reading for each of my kids’ grade level. You’d be surprised to see some of the choices on those lists! For example, while the list for my high school son includes things like Catch-22 and Bless the Beasts and the Children, it also includes The DaVinci Code. So there are new “classics” being added all the time to reading lists.

    And I would never force my kids to read Henry James. They’d fall asleep after the second page.

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