Are the Required Readings in English Classes Outdated?

Jamey Walker | Reporter

A lot of things have changed since our parents have been in high school, but many of the required readings in Avon High School’s English classes are the same books that generations before us have read, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

When deciding what books students will read each year there are many factors to look into. According to English 10 and English 10 Honors teacher Kelly Kirkpatrick, the books read each year are decided on and debated by teachers based on many factors.

“I look for something that’s going to be high interest for kids and that they’re going to like it,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s nice to have some higher-level vocabulary, but you kind of have to balance that with making sure everybody can understand it. I also look for something that’s going to have literary merit with literary devices being used that we can look at, and then also I’m looking for diversity in the authors, as much as we can.”

Despite the diversity teachers promote between books, students like junior Spencer Scott find that some required English readings can be difficult to understand due to their outdated writing styles and themes.

“My least favorite readings are those really long books that are too wordy and confusing, for me at least,” Scott said. “When we read Things Fall Apart sophomore year, I barely even read it because it was so hard to follow along with.”

Another issue students notice with some required English readings is the lack of minority representation present within them. Sophomore Katherine Langford said she finds frustration with the lack of female characters and narratives present in the readings.

“The only book with a woman character has been To Kill a Mockingbird, whose female character has deeply rooted internal misogyny. She often says, ‘I wish I wasn’t a girl’, or hates anything feminine,” Langford said. “A character is totally allowed to be this way, however, when it is the only woman character you are seeing, it doesn’t feel like she counts as a strong woman.”

Junior Sal Feiock points out that many of the readings in English classes are works of fiction and can be difficult for students to understand because everyone learns differently.

“I’ve been told many times that my interpretation is wrong… but do we even really know the true meaning?” Feiock said. “If we want to keep fiction in our curriculum, we can’t keep expecting a ‘right’ answer out of kids. As long as students are able to justify their answer, they [should be] correct.”

Oftentimes older readings are chosen due to their historical relevancy and the lessons that they can teach students. Kirkpatrick and other teachers work to incorporate history into lessons as well as current events and topics.

“I do think we’re moving towards more modern books […] it helps in engagement and relatability,” Kirkpatrick said. “But I do think that there’s also merit to older books because even if it’s from about the 30’s like [To Kill a Mockingbird], there are still really valuable lessons to get from that. I think you can also compare and contrast it with how [life] is different now.”

While many books taught in English classes have modern connections and lessons to teach, Langford shares that oftentimes these lessons could be shared in a more raw and effective way.

“We have also never read a book with a [person of color] author. With all the books we have read on race, not one of the authors have experienced racism,” Langford said. “It just feels like we are getting the ‘white man’s’ perspective over and over again.  Our views of race in America can’t be challenged if we aren’t reading from people who have different perspectives.”

Whether the books read in classes are too outdated for the modern classroom or not, some students like sophomore Emma Cremeans wishes that English classes were more focused on engaging students with reading books that they personally enjoy.

“If I could change anything about the English curriculum, I would try to add more free-reading assignments,” Cremeans said. “Forcing students to read books they don’t like and won’t learn anything from doesn’t help students learn. Rather, teachers should be fostering students’ passion for reading while challenging them to think critically.”

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