argument top image

Should classic literature be taught in 21st century schools?
Back to question

The diversity of classic literature is severely lacking

The classics that are taught in schools are often written by the same type of people; dead rich white men.


Classic literature is categorised as such because it comes from, and represents, a bygone age. It is hardly a secret that discrimination in its many forms was the status quo even within living memory. Much of that sustains today. To that end, using these books as teaching materials arguably sustain those ideas by keeping them alive. To ensure that doesn't happen, students need literature that is relevant to current, progressive norms within society, and that represents their lived experience. As the author Tytianna N. M. Wells Smith says, “Books must mirror the lives of readers…many students related to the stories as they reflected on their lived experiences that connect their home and school identities.”[1]

The Argument

What educators may not realize is that choosing to teach traditional over modern literature may be just as politically charged as the topics they are trying to avoid in many contemporary texts. The majority of novels that are part of the traditional literary canon are written by and large by European men who were part of the upper class. Though their literature comes in a variety of topics, the general tone of many of these pre-twentieth century texts hold deeply seeded roots of classism, racism, sexism, and lack a variety of cultural point of views. Of course, there are exceptions to this such as Oscar Wilde who, though part of the Irish upper class, portrayed the wealthy as hypocritical misers. Though even Oscar Wilde does not offer a break from the Anglo perspective. By not incorporating modern texts from a variety of authors, teachers may exclude students who do not see themselves represented. If reading only texts by European men who passed away generations before students were even born, we risk alienating students and devaluing their voices. Students in public schools have a wide range of family backgrounds, experiences, struggles, and triumphs. Whereas throughout a large portion of the twentieth century, schools were segregated by race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Today, this is no longer the norm. Because of the change to culture, not just in schools but in the country as a whole, students should be taught how to identify an ingrained sense of oppression within a text and be given the tools to think critically about what they read. By presenting various viewpoints from a culturally diverse population of authors, students are better able to understand these different perspectives. When teachers assign novels with vastly different perspectives it gives students the opportunity to navigate their own socio-cultural identities, which is a common struggle amongst many middle and high school-aged students.

Counter arguments



[P1] Traditional literature does not offer enough of a diverse perspective and may leave many students feeling devalued. [P2] It is the job of educators to present a variety of perspectives and voices as a way to guide students to discover their own place in the world.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] On the surface, many traditional novels may seem to value the caucasian upper classes, but upon deeper inspection, many of them challenge these ideals and show an unrepresented viewpoint. [Rejectin P2] This is something that educators do all the time. Even when reading a more traditional piece of literature, teachers reveal the underlying messages that may not be so obvious and encourage students to find connections between what they read and their own lives.


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 17 Mar 2020 at 14:01 UTC

Explore related arguments