Updating High School English

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I’m married to a high school English teacher. I love hearing about his students’ reactions to books that I also read as a teen: Animal Farm, Brave New World, Macbeth, and more.

But are some of these books, the classics, too outdated to teach today’s generation? Three seniors from Michigan area high schools think so. Here are a few quotes from their Our Turn Column in the Kalamazoo Gazette:

“As a student, I can firmly say that just because a book has endured through generations does not make it relevant to my generation. The veil of time often blinds young readers to a book’s meaning.” – Jacob Stroud

“Current required readings often make students skip the book and go straight to the movie or use Spark Notes to pass the test.” – Olivia Reed

“By exposing students to more modern literature they can relate to, they may come to view reading as cool or enjoyable, rather than only as homework or something that nerds do.” – Ashley Monroe

My husband says students have to read Shakespeare in high school because, well, it’s Shakespeare. I agree with him, but these students have a point. Perhaps students can read a classic novel or two along with modern ones, creating a balance of old and new. Schools are competing against Twitter and Facebook, TV and music, gaming and more–and they seem to be losing the battle. Bringing in modern literature won’t save education, but it could get more students interested in reading and increase reading comprehension.

Check out this list of the most popular high school books on Goodreads (which includes The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). What would be the modern-day equivalent to some of the books on this list? Or what modern book do you think would be a nice addition to the high-school curriculum?


LaToya Jordan is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, Thick-Skinned Sugar (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and her work has been listed as notable in Best American Essays 2016. Her writing has appeared in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Mom Egg Review, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, and more. Visit her at latoyajordan.com. More from this author →