Reading the classics in English class is important

Annie Zhao, Staff Writer

“My teacher made me read it” is often the mantra following a traditional curriculum of classic literature. Whether it’s because they’re less modern or are perceived negatively due to their classroom presence, few students would choose to read a “classic” book such as “Lord of the Flies” or “Moby Dick” over a contemporary novel. 

However, classics have never lost their value, especially to readers, society or the education system. They are classics for a reason.

Classics have withstood time and have resonated with hundreds of thousands and even millions of people. According to a Fortune article on “The Bittersweet Story Behind Harper Lee’s Success,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” first released in 1960, has sold over 40 million copies and still sells over 750,000 copies yearly

The quality, relatability and demand of classics is clearly illustrated through their survival through time and decades of change in ideas and culture. People have still embraced them with the same fervor because although written long ago, these books have an element of timelessness.

While a lot of history can be learned through textbooks, we can’t forget that it is also preserved through these stories. Through these books, students can experience life through the eyes of someone living in the past. Reading classics in a modern context allows students to learn, examine and understand an often prejudiced past. The messages and stories depicted in these books have impacted generations of people and should continue to do so into the future.

In the past years, some schools across America have banned books such as “Of Mice and Men” and “The Catcher and The Rye” due to profanity, racial slurs and “X-rated” content. There has been no literary censorship at Algonquin, but some students may go through their high school career having read only a few classics, especially with the pandemic involved. 

When purchasing new books, the English department shouldn’t only look at updating their curriculum to make it more contemporary and accessible. They should also continue investing in classic literature like “1984” or “Animal Farm” and should buy enough copies of these books so that all students have the opportunity to read them.

Contemporary novels may be more modern, relatable and comfortable for students, but classics challenge students with viewpoints of individuals from other time periods. This allows students to encounter characters that they may disagree with and provides an outlet—the classroom—for students to digest, praise or criticize those works. Furthermore, classic plays like Shakespeare challenge students to analyze unfamiliar language, literary ideas and writing styles under the guidance of their teachers and peers.

In the past few years, Algonquin has been trying to expand the reading list to include more diverse contemporary novels, but I strongly believe that classics should stay mandatory as well.