Do Modern Novels have a Place in English Classrooms?

Do Modern Novels have a Place in English Classrooms?

Of all the books you read in high school, which one will you remember the most? For some people it will be a book they loved. Others will forever harbor hatred for that one book they could not stand (or the one without a SparkNotes page). Whatever your experience, it is clear that the choice of books taught in English class makes a difference in students’ lives. Many books that we consider to be classics have been taught in classrooms for decades, but today, an increasing number of teachers and students are advocating a shift to more modern novels. Would an updated curriculum improve students’ literary experience, or would it fail to expose them to the most valuable literary works?

My grandmother was a high school English teacher, and more than once over the past few years I have discovered that a book I am reading for class is a book that she used to teach. That seems to say something about how often English curricula are updated. However, it is absurd to suggest that Shakespeare has less value now than it did forty years ago. Although they may be challenging to read, many of the most commonly taught works of great literature continue to be taught because they are, well, great. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, exposes students to important social themes, and The Great Gatsby allows students to experience an important era in American history.

However, both teachers and students argue that the classics are increasingly difficult for young people to relate to. Many teachers say the best way they can get students involved and interested in reading is to incorporate contemporary young adult novels into the curriculum. For middle school and some high school classes, this can be a valuable option. Many modern books discuss important contemporary issues that are relevant to students’ lives, and portray characters students identify with. However, given the huge variety of modern novels, I think it is better to offer students a choice among a few different modern books to read. A modern novel that students cannot relate to will not improve a curriculum.

Contemporary works certainly have a place in English classes, but this does not mean they should entirely take over the classroom. English curricula should be balanced, exposing students to classic works of literature but also allowing them to explore their own interests through more modern pieces.