After the discussions that we have been having in class, I have decided to shift the focus of my blogs from No Child Left Behind legislation to that of literature. More specifically, I want to study the debate concerning literature taught in school, whether middle and high schools should focus on young adult literature or classic literature. There are those who believe that YA literature should be the canon, as its language is easily accessible to students and it covers topics that are interesting and useful to adolescents. On the other hand, there are those who believe that classic literature should be the canon, as its messages and merits are timeless and have been taught for so long. I tend to align myself with the latter group, although I understand the position of the former.
There is a reason that classic pieces of literature from such authors as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Austen and Dickens continue to be taught in high schools, and not simply because teachers have a fascination with boring their students. Classic literature has been able to stand the test of time and has been revered by many for its greatness – that is why classic literature is taught. Why, then, do people want to disregard it completely and to remove it from the high school classroom? It is true that many of the events, characters, and settings are no longer applicable to students today, but the messages gleaned from these works are timeless.
In his article “The tale’s the thing, for every generation,” William Rees-Mogg talks about a good story being the basis for children wanting to learn. He says that students will find interest in literature if the story and content are interesting to them, not necessarily if the work is deemed classic literature. However, he does not believe that students should not have to read classic literature, but should rather use these other pieces as segues into the classics.
“Great literature, even apart from the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer, teaches lessons…Great literature is an instructor to the young and a comfort to the bereaved.”
The great writers of the classics were masters in their craft. They knew how to write well and effectively, and how to compose pieces that would continue to instill wisdom centuries into the future. In other subjects, such as chemistry, calculus, and history, students study those people who were masters in these fields. They concentrate on gleaning knowledge from those who were the most accomplished and had the most to offer. Why should literature study be any different? Although YA literature is a good device to get children interested in reading, it should not be the main focus of study in the classroom. In general, YA literature does not have the universal appeal or level of skill that classic literature does. That would be equivalent to history teachers teaching their students only about the lives of ordinary people rather than those of people like Napoleon, Washington, or King, Jr. That would be equivalent to chemistry teachers teaching their students only about experiments conducted in high school labs, and not about scientists and discoveries that have changed the world. Classic literature has a place in the classroom, one that should be revered and never substitued with work that is simply mediocre.
“The tale’s the thing, for every generation”
February 19, 2007