By Polina Runova
Classic literature has been a part of our lives and communities for many generations, and yet it never seems to grow old. Some would even argue that it is the difference in time that makes these books all the more valuable today. Whatever the reason, teachers and students agree that despite the distant language, classics definitely have their place in the modern world and in the classroom.
99 students in Summit Tahoma were asked to define a classic. The poll wielded results such as “a book that is relevant to society from the day it was made and even in the present time”; “it[‘s] universally a favorite to all kinds of people” and “a book that is exciting every time you read it”. Many students also admitted that they were “not sure” or even “had no idea.”
Randall Studstill, a librarian at the San Jose Public Library, said, “A classic is a book that’s been found valuable generation after generation.” This backs up the idea that to become a classic a piece of literature needs to first stand the test of time.
Dan Dowling, an English teacher at Discovery Charter School, agrees with this. A classic is “something that’s endured, that still is talked about, or still mentioned, or still on a booklist,” Mr. Dowling said. “Even though it was written maybe a hundred years ago, or something like that, it’s something that still is a well-known book.”
Andrea Rivard, an AP literature teacher at Summit Tahoma, defined a classic as “something that tells a story that transcends time” even if it hasn’t yet proven it. She has been teaching for four years, and she has come to believe in the value of classics written recently. “What other people do with classics is ‘if it’s modern then it can’t be classic’, and I don’t think that’s true,” Ms. Rivard said.
Almost everyone does agree that classic literature has a place in present and the future. Of the students surveyed, 70 percent said reading classics is beneficial, and 80 percent said classics are relevant in the modern world. The reason for this is that classics speak about issues that “everyone has to deal with,” Mr. Studstill explained. “The real themes that are addressed in the book are universal.”
“Anything that is truly classic, no matter when it was written, is going to have those universal themes,” Ms. Rivard said. “They’re going to deal with things like what it means to be human, what love is, different things around how we interact, how we treat each other, and I think all of those things are really important.”
Mr. Studstill added that adolescence, feeling alone and dealing with death are issues that last throughout history.
However, books written long ago aren’t always easily relatable to today’s problems, and Mr. Dowling argues that this is a further beneficial quality of classics. “I think that’s a really big benefit – trying to learn how to look at what was okay, maybe, during a time, and think about what’s okay now,” he said. “I think that really helps people with their perspective.”
Mr. Dowling suggests that the aged, and perhaps slightly outdated content in some classics helps people “to step out of oneself and one’s time and look at it based on what it is.” He also adds that following literature history can help people better understand who they are, and how they came to be. “We don’t just think this for no reason,” he said. “We got to the way we think through a series of steps, and I think examining some of those steps through literature is very beneficial for a person to be well-rounded.”
Classics have come a long way, but many believe they are just getting started. “I think you’re going to get so much out of them,” Ms. Rivard said.
“They definitely have their place,” Mr. Dowling added. “Lessons learned in the past shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Classic literature is important today, not only because it shows us where we came from, but also because it looks toward where we might go. “Those kinds of issues, they’re not limited to a certain time or place,” Mr. Studstill said.
“Reading in general is really important,” Ms. Rivard said. “Most definitely, I am for classic literature in the classroom.”
See below for a video about classic literature: