When we think of classic literature, our thoughts go to high school English class. Books like Frankenstein, Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451. However, we’ve been growing tired of George Orwell and Harper Lee. The vast world of literature has more to offer and we need to take advantage of it.
Discussions around the books taught in high school English class is nothing new. We often hear debates surrounding which books should be banned and which are outdated. Dozens of think pieces, thought provoking articles and discussions regarding what books we should or shouldn’t be reading are just a click away.
So, are the works of Shakespeare and Ray Bradbury still applicable to us today? Yes, but we shouldn’t stop there. Let’s bring the high school English curriculum into the 21st century.
The most recently published book taught in English III and AP Language and Composition is, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, published in 1990. Much has happened in the 32 years since then. Students need to read novels and works concerned with the events of the past three decades.
That is not to say I don’t think there’s valuable things to be learned from To Kill a Mockingbird or Othello. Most everyone would agree that there’s a reason many of these books are still taught, for the stories, lessons learned and the writing. However, I think there are also many contemporary stories worth learning, some more relevant to the lives of high school students in 2022.
When thinking about the books taught we also have to consider the voices we’re teaching. Very few books taught in Lewis-Palmer are written by women or people of color. We need a more diverse list of books. Female and non-white students deserve to read stories that they can relate to.
I believe there is room for both classic and modern literature, I don’t think the two should have to conflict. We can continue to learn Shakespeare but there should be an addition of more modern, diverse stories, like, The Kite Runner, which grapples with Afghani and Soviet relations.
While I understand an update to the English curriculum would be a hard and extensive shift, I believe both students and teachers can get more out of the subject. New reading would make the students more engaged with the class, and more fond of reading and learning.