Classic literature is in jeopardy in high school

The list of classic novels that are regularly assigned in high school English classes is known as the canon (“These High School ‘Classics’ Have Been Taught for Generations – Could They Be on Their Way Out?”, Sept. 29). But since they do not represent the nation’s diverse student body, reformers say that the list needs to be changed.

As a former high school English teacher, I understand their concern.  But I’d like to know first what the purpose of literature is.  If it’s to cultivate lifelong readers, then I agree. We all tend to repeat behavior that is enjoyable. That’s why teaching Shakespeare is so difficult.  The language turns off most students.  As a result, I doubt they will ever want to read more of his work.

If the purpose is to train young people to read and analyze media, then it behooves teachers to give their students practice reading non-fiction in the form of op-eds and other essays. Reading fiction will not be nearly as effective in achieving that goal.

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