Growing up, I’ve always been a fan of classical literature. I admit that I am one of the few. My peers in high school, with the exception of maybe one or two, had a distaste for reading. Looking back, I couldn’t understand it. I loved being teleported to this other world where I didn’t have to be myself. I could be Huckleberry Finn helping to free a slave, I could be Gregor Sampsa waking up to find himself a giant insect, I could be Lily Briscoe discarding gender roles and coming out on top because of it.
But it’s not the case for most high school students. Most don’t get into the deep symbolism presented in these books and short stories that are meant for adult readers. Adolescents crave to have something that they can relate to, and not all could relate to the classics like I did. The classics from Faulkner, Hemingway, Kafka, Woolf, and Wilde are not books that interest normal teenagers. For me though, I loved them. I craved being able to understand obscure references found all throughout the music I listened to, the conversations I would join, and other books and criticisms I would read.
Doubtless, this had to do with the fact that I was made fun of relentlessly through my high school career. The few friends that I did have, I always felt like a third wheel. Naturally, reading became my place of solace from the very first book I ever was seriously able to get into in the fifth grade (Touching Spirit Bear). After that, I read and read. My family started seeing less of me, and when they did see me, I had a book in my hands. I craved more. Eventually though, I wanted to be able to have to think about what I was reading. I wanted the symbolism that I could dissect, analyze, and feel smarter for actually understanding. After hearing a reference to Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in a song by one of my favorite bands at the time, I started to read Kafka’s works including “The Penal Colony” and “The Judgement.” My love for him was only strengthened when I went to Europe and was able to actually stand in the place where all of these glorious short stories were written in Prague. After I was given a copy of The Metamorphosis and Other Short Stories by Franz Kafka by one of my English professors, I was sold.
But I was an exception. Teenagers, if given the chance to read for pleasure, would not turn to the books and short stories that I did. The truth is, classics are not the only form of literature, and they simply aren’t meant for adolescents. In the article “How Classics Create an Aliterate Society,” Gallo claims that it is because of the classics that most students don’t like reading.
And he’s right, is the sad thing.
High school is the perfect time to ingrain the love of reading in kids, and it will become a habit they will keep for the rest of their lives, if you can actually get them to read. But what if they don’t enjoy the literature taught in school? They’ll hate reading. That’s what. So it only makes sense to teach literature that students can actually enjoy. Don’t teach all of the classics in high school. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Yes, the classics have their place. Yes, I do believe they should be taught. But, it’s important to find a balance. If students can’t learn to love reading, you’re never going to be able to get them to fully appreciate the classics for what they’re actually worth. There are multiple studies on the topic of how reading classical literature can make readers more empathetic as classical literature doesn’t focus too much on character development, making it easier to place yourself in the main character’s shoes. It leaves more for the imagination. However, how can you place yourself adequately in the main character’s shoes if you aren’t actually enjoying what you’re reading? You can’t. And it completely ruins why students should be reading classical literature in the first place.
With all of that being said, I’m going to leave you all with links to some songs that have references to some great literature as examples of what I was talking about earlier.