Older works of literature deserve attention too

It seems to me as a retired English teacher that Marietta High School and its English Department have forgotten what a basic function of a HS English Department is or ought to be. That is to teach young people to read, not merely the current writing styles, but earlier styles. Even 19th Century styles are difficult for people not used to them. I remember reviewing a fashionable and much adopted series which was very careful about having exactly half “white” authors and half minorities on the one hand and half women, half men on the other, but it had nothing written before WWI except in the historical surveys where they could hardly avoid it. But every year from Freshman on, except American Literature, had one Shakespeare Play. Since the books had no earlier selections to ease them into the style, reading Shakespeare must have been much like translating a foreign language word for word.

Imagine what a taste even advanced students must have developed for reading or seeing a Shakespeare play. My class read Longfellow’s “Evangeline” in the seventh grade, but now Longfellow has been written entirely out of the canon. For a longtime now, we have not taught any young people to have any interest in our cultural heritage.

It isn’t just a matter of enjoying literature. Older works of history, science, and social studies are hard to follow if you aren’t familiar with the style. Imagine reading Adam Smith or Charles Darwin. That’s what English should be teaching young people, and not just in high school but middle school. If kids are bored and turned off by high school English, it may well be because they haven’t developed the reading skills as they came up through the grades.

Richard Davis

Marietta