Every year, high school students across the nation are given the task of reading classic literature in their English classes. It is a commonality for students to pick up a book like The Scarlet Letter or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, read them, and then trudge through writing a paper to attain an acceptable letter grade.
Reading is one of the original subjects taught in schools, accompanied by writing and arithmetic. High school students in the United States are vastly literate, and with modern technology offering boundless knowledge, is studying the classics in today’s classrooms worth the time and hard work that it takes? Or is classic literature simply outdated?
Over the course of human history, storytelling has been a central aspect of many societies, as it was one of the main forms of entertainment, but as time passed and technology advanced at a rapid rate, the students of today have found themselves tempted to indulge in watching the movie, instead of reading the book. This trend has a simple explanation: Today’s students have grown up in a world that has offered instant gratification, while demanding higher academic excellence. The school system has demanded that students partake in copious amounts of work. Therefore, high school students have fallen into a cycle of doing the work to receive a high grade, and then forgetting everything that was discussed the month before.
While technology has offered limitless, instantaneous information that can be used for educational use, studying classic literature is still beneficial for the development of young adults because it teaches lessons and themes with more depth then movies or Google searches.
“I think that reading is integral to the social development of a person,” said junior Aiden Guessford. “Literature helps us to create a positive self-image of ourselves modeled after the protagonists we read about in novels, teaching us the right to act as a contributing member of society.”
English teachers at McNicholas High School try everything they can to try to engage the students in the classroom, but ultimately the students must decide that the study of classic literature is worth their time in order to deduce life lessons from the text. This could be achieved by focusing on the lessons that are being conveyed, instead of on a test or a paper. When an individual is engaged and attentive while reading, the more knowledge they will take away from the book.
“Unfortunately, I think a lot of students don’t read as much as they could or should because there are so many more interactive and interesting ways for students to get their information now,” said English teacher Laura Rupp. Students have opted out of reaching for a book to gain knowledge or pass time, and instead reach for their phones, but in doing so, they are missing out on one of the most important ties that humanity has to previous generations.
“You can make a connection with somebody who lived two-hundred years ago through the character or through people that appreciated that work in the time it was written,” said AP English teacher Julie Dill. “[There is] that timeless element of each generation appreciating the work that came before them.” Literature has offered humanity a glance into the past and has given people the opportunity to learn from those who came before the modern generations. However, some students have very different opinions.
“I feel that making it a part of the curriculum is entirely unnecessary,” junior Leo Shannon said. “When you are teaching ‘classic’ literature to people who don’t care, they are likely to not even read the books that are assigned for lack of interest, and any information that they would have learned by reading and analyzing will be lost and forgotten.” There are many students who feel the same way, either because literature does not offer the same instant gratification that the internet does or because they just do not see the value in studying literature.
Classic literature offers rich history and important life lessons. Frankly, it is concerning that students today seem to overlook that. As the philosopher and poet George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.”