The YA Highway does a group blogger activity on Wednesdays. But before I can talk about the activity, I have to talk about the name of the blog. Am I the only who reads it and thinks of a road occupied only by teenagers?
|(Image courtesy of Library of Congress)|
Maybe they’re walking or driving, maybe they’re on bikes or skateboards or pogo sticks, but it’s a mass army of adolescents sweeping up and down an eight lane highway. You can hear it from four states away. Right. Okay. The YA Highway does this thing called Road Trip Wednesdays, in which they post a question and bloggers across the YA galaxy respond on their own blogs.
Today’s topic/question is:
“In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?”
Hand wringing over being “made” to read the classics in high school has never really resonated for me. I was the kind of nerdy child who loved and read so much of the British classics that I still spell certain words with the British preferred spelling (grey, jewellery, etc.).
Let’s consider the authors presented. Sure, we could probably knock Dickens off that list without losing much. Shakespeare, while not a personal favorite, is pretty foundational. Hawthorne and Bronte and are just awesome. But this is where the problem arises. Taste is extremely subjective, and for “reluctant readers,” or those high schoolers who just can’t get into the diction of another time, the classics seem boring, or outdated.
To which my response is—so? Since when is what we learn in school supposed to be a non-stop carnival ride of thrills? Would history teachers present the events of World War II in a catchier, “sexier” way? Or skip the war entirely, since it’s old and boring and new stuff has happened that students would rather learn about? But I’m getting cranky, and the Cranky Divorcee is only allowed to come out to play on Mondays.
Next: A Solution
Teachers should be focusing on literature which students need to know in order to be educated members of society. What exactly that body of literature is has been up for debate for a number of decades. If anything, the real question is, what are the classics? For schools still stuck in the outdated mindset of “the canon” the concept of “classics” in high school, as in the names listed in the question, focuses almost entirely on DWM (dead white males.) I would suggest teaching the true classics; texts which encompass a variety of perspectives and experiences. In addition to works by the authors mentioned in the question, I’d like to see titles by Octavia Butler, Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Edwidge Danticat, and Jhumpa Lahiri, just to name a few.
There are also ways to teach the classics and make them seem more relevant to teenagers who may be having trouble connecting to the story. On the YALSA listserv, the great collective brain recently came up with a list which shows just how many classics have been retold as YA novels. Teachers frequently will teach the “paired books” as a way to make the classics more accessible. For Hamlet alone, there are a wealth of options:
Something Rotten by Alan Gratz
Hamlet by James Marsden
Dating Hamlet by Lisa Fiedler
Ophelia by Lisa Klein
Falling for Hamlet- Ray
There are lots of new and exciting YA books out there. But removing the classics from high school curriculums and replace them with current titles simply to make required reading more fun seems short-sighted to me.