Okay, I need to return to an old topic because I've had some feedback from people regarding our "teaching only the classics in high school English classes" discussion. Here's a worry that some people express--"if we stop teaching only the classics, aren't we in danger of getting on that slippery slope where eventually we don't teach any classics? And then how will teens read those books? I loved these books. They changed my life. It would be a huge disservice to kids to take that away."
Okay, I understand your worry, but I think it's founded on faulty assumptions such as: 1. the classics are the only really good books out there, and, 2. since I had a great experience with these books, so must most people.
Everywhere I go in this country, at every grade level, I get to meet thousands of kids and teens who tell me, "I don't like to read." I don't believe this. In most cases, what they're really saying is, "I haven't liked any of the books I've read." The danger of having only one kind of book assigned in high school (the "classics") is that MANY students believe there is only one kind of book out there, period. You may think this sounds small minded, but it really is true. Yes, it would be great if the burden were on the parents instead of English teachers. But I meet these parents. They had to read Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter in high school too, and because of their discouraging experience they stopped reading too, and they have no idea about all the amazing YA or genre books out there that could capture their children's fancy and turn them into lifelong readers. Many don't even realize the importance.
Most of the people who would read this blog are avid readers, go to libraries, have those reading options. But I meet so many kids and teens (not to mention adults) who really, truly don't know how to find a book they will like, and because their reading experiences in the past have been so boring or discouraging, they have no motivation to try. If the assigned reading in high school had more variety in storytelling styles and genres, it's much more likely that more students would find a book that they actually enjoyed reading, sparking them to find other books and keep reading after high school.
And regardless, isn't more variety, more genres and storytelling styles, a GOOD thing? Shouldn't that be the goal? Isn't that part of what we want to be teaching and learning in literature classes? Many people have marvelous, transcendant, life changing experiences from reading a particular classic. But I would argue that more students would have similar marvelous, transcendant, life changing experiences from reading a well-written young adult novel. Again I don't mean to replace all the classics with young adult and genre literature. I mean to supplement.
An argument I hear a lot in favor of the classics is the old AP test whamo. Again, I shrug. Why couldn't a Nancy Farmer book be an acceptable subject of an AP exam? Or a Richard Peck or Marcus Zusak or Jacqueline Woodson? We're so used to assumption that the classics are Better than any other book that we forget to question it. There are these amazing, accessbile books out there. They're great works of literature. They're changing lives. And someday soon, they'll be accepted in your high school.