English Novel Selections: Change Up or Not?

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English Novel Selections: Change Up or Not?

Mona Kessy, Staff

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For many years the books that students read in high school have always been the same, classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and various works by Shakespeare, especially Romeo and Juliet. For a long time, we have depended on these books for our English education, but would introducing a set of modern books to the English curriculum alter student’s English education for the better?  

Often books that are provided to students are based on time periods that are decades away from the current time. The difference in the time periods not only makes it hard for students to relate to the book but also makes students less interested in them, leading to a decrease in the number of students reading the book. 

“We just finished reading Huckleberry Finn, and, even though the book had a good message, it was based off slavery. I feel like it is all we read about and that is something that no longer exists,” junior Ellie Curtin explained.  

English teacher Ellen Kusterer has similar concerns. 

“It depends on topic, it is not just the age of the book. I’s the relevancy of the book in terms of what it is actually about to individual readers,” Ms. Kusterer elaborated.  

Duaa Eldeib a tribune reporter from the Chicago Tribute raised similar concerns.  

Instead of grappling with archaic language — and resorting to SparkNotes, which offers study guides on a variety of books — students can immerse themselves in the compelling, relatable narratives, she said,” Ms. Eldeib quoted. 

Other works such as those from Shakespeare and Homer can be difficult to understand, and often students find themselves lost and givup.  

“Most books I read I can’t understand or relate to, so it makes them less interesting,” junior Ellie Curtin stated. 

 English teacher Rachel Wilkinson also agrees. 

“A lot of students have a really hard time with the older language with books like Huckleberry Finn or Scarlet Letter. They have a hard time picturing it because they have a hard reading it, where as if it was written in more modern languageand it relates to more modern things that students are familiar with, they may have an easier time getting involved,” Ms. Wilkinson shared.  

Adding new books to the curriculum can make a difference to those who don’t read the classics. After all reading is still very important.  

 “The more engaging the books are the better the likelihood that students will read it,” Ms. Wilkinson stated.  

Curtin also agrees that engaging books are worth it to read. 

“I think reading is really important; growing up, I loved reading because it is like a little world that you can be in,” she added.  

Not all agree that classics should be replaced by contemporary works. One classic book can teach a student the same moral lesson as a modern book. Most of the classics can relate to problems that we still face today as a society. Conflicts such as racism and sexism are two examples that we see in both old and new literature.  

“I wouldn’t say that classics are completely useless; there are still some topics that our society needs to improve on. Factors such as racism and gender roles are things that most eras struggle with,” junior Melissa Tolton shared.  

Ms. Eldeib gave another item to add to the significance of the classic books.  

Although Shakespeare’s language can prove challenging, working through it benefits the reader, said Jeffrey Masten, a Northwestern University professor who teaches Shakespeare. The plays also can get students thinking about gender and race in new ways, he said. Eldeib reported.