Journalism Student

PRO/CON: Modern Literature

November 14, 2018

PRO: Appealing to student’s passion for reading

High school English classes have filled their curriculums with texts containing outdated diction, commonly drawing from names such as Homer, Donne and Aristotle. This translates to teachers requiring  rhetorical analysis from students who must spend countless hours pondering the meanings of certain antiquated words. Pupils should not be obligated to read these obsolete works.

While some adolescent teenagers may enjoy reading ancient text, superintendents across America have to face the facts: the majority of the student population does not want to read antiquated literature. Educators who create the standards should add contemporary books that reflect modern society to the repertoire.

Learning obsolete English forces the student to dwell on interpretations of the past, which hinder rather than bolster the reading ability of some students. Subsequently, pupils will begin to dread analyzing outmoded language for two to three hours every time they are assigned pages to read.

Once students develop a hatred for this unnecessarily long and arduous reading, they will inevitably be exposed to online sources, such as Sparknotes and Shmoop, that summarize entire novels and passages. These websites encourage laziness in the student, diminishing the teacher’s purpose of assigning the outdated novels in the first place.

If the school systems across America refresh their standards by adding  modern novels, students may regain their lost fervor for reading. Implementing texts that reflect  pertinent information relative to modern society can engage students to read, allowing them to find  value in the author’s themes.

Novels released in the last few decades offer readers a chance to approach recent events with a different perspective, allowing a student to express empathy. Take the novel “Salvage the Bones,” (2011) for instance. Author Jesmyn Ward sets the story in 2005, during the catastrophic period of Hurricane Katrina.

The story touches upon an African American family preparing for the storm ahead, offering modern insight into the devastating hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast region. Narratives about modern catastrophic disasters such as the one above can appeal to a general audience.

Novels based on these topics would be appealing to read for students, striking them about the recent difficulties embraced by minority communities.

Comparatively, a story about a tragic hero and his conquest to find his homeland would diminish this effect, as a student and a epic hero  have little common ground.

Pupils should enjoy reading books that allow them to have a better understanding about the modern world, instead of painfully reading archaic texts just to ace the next literary comprehension test.

In the words of the Irish poet Oscar Wilde; “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” And most students certainly don’t want to read “The Odyssey” over again.

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CON: Missing the fundamentals with modern works

Modern literature is widely popular among high school students due to its relatability, easily understood language and direct plot. With students bored by old-time classic novels, some are advocating to add modern literature such as “The Notebook” or “The Book Thief” to high school English curriculum. However, doing so would be detrimental to students and would cause them to falter in certain areas that classic literature helps to enhance.

Most classics teach ethics and morals, while the purpose of many modern works is to entertain rather than instruct. For instance,  “Pride and Prejudice” teaches the effect bias and the influence social status can have on judgment. While reading classic literature, students are able to experience stories of timeless truths and larger messages from someone living in a previous time period.

Certain authors are foundational to Western culture, having influenced all other works of their genre, to the point where all students should be familiar with their writings. For example, Shakespeare has written some of the greatest works of literature, focusing on such universal themes as love, virtue, greed and betrayal. Students who are denied the opportunity to experience Shakespeare are denied the opportunity to expand their perspectives.

It is true that Shakespeare is hard for the average teenager to digest, requiring careful reading and analysis to understand.  However, these are skills that students must develop, and they cannot afford to miss out on reading classic works of literature — especially if it is replaced with writing that does not require such close attention.

For example, “All the Light We Cannot See” is a piece of literature set during World War II, but, being published in 2014, it does not provide the kind of insight into the time period that an author from 50 or 60 years ago would bring.  The culture displayed in the story is attributed to the writer’s imagination, which does not provide a completely accurate representation. The ideas and morals presented in the novel are not ideas that come from the era; rather, they are present ones that may not actually have been thought by people of that time.

A major reason people want to add modern literature to  the English curriculum is that they are easier to read and understand. However, modern literature should not be valued because of this. People should not study things because they are easy to understand, but to strive towards their full potential.

Another aspect of modern literature is its relatability; people can relate to the setting and context of the story, since they are more familiar with them. However, the ability to translate time-honored concepts from one context to another is an important skill. While classics force readers to do this, modern literature may not.

Classic literature improves the reader’s knowledge and perspective, giving them critical tools to help them understand the meanings of complicated pieces of Writing. These necessary tools can lead to deeper thinking and make them smarter, in not only literary comprehension but in life.

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