Let’s Talk: The Classic Class Clash

Say “Classic Class Clash ten times fast. I’m going to start this discussion post a little differently, with two stories about my experience as an English Literature student. The first happened to me while I was in my tenth grade English class.

hated that English class. The teacher was pretty monotone, and it seemed like she didn’t care a thing for the topic she was teaching. On top of that, the books we read all seemed boring, and completely irrelevant to tenth-grade Ryann. Toward the end of the year, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, and, because things were winding down, my teacher said that we would watch the movie adaptation for fun, and to give us a break before finals. I thought, “Great! I can kick back and relax for a few class periods.” So, when she started the movie, I pulled out a book (I believe I was reading Fire by Kristin Cashore at the time), and started reading. At this point, my English teacher, in my English class, told me not to read, that I would get more out of the movie adaptation of a book I had already read, than I would out of “whatever fantasy nonsense you’re reading now.”


To be fair, this wasn’t the first time I had pulled out a fantasy book when I probably should have been reading Death Be Not Proud or Lord of the Flies, but I was still flabbergasted, both by the fact that she thought I should not be reading in an English class, and the blatant disregard she showed for anything other than “the classics.”

Fast-forward a few years to my sophomore year of college. One of the requirements for an English degree at my school was to take a class that focused on the writings of a single author. I had the amazing opportunity to take a class that studied only Tolkien’s work; we read some of his poems and short stories, Letters From Father ChristmasThe Silmarillion, and The Lord of the Rings all in a single semester (it was A LOT of reading, but I loved it). One of our assignments was to do an in-depth character or scene study, and present it to the class. I chose one of my all-time favorite literary scenes: Eowyn facing down the Lord of the Nazgul. The focal point of my essay and presentation was the verbal battle taking place between to two characters, even as a physical battle raged around them. I argued that Eowyn first defeats the Nazgul in this verbal debate, which then allows her the upper hand needed to defeat him physically. I learned more about language, how it has been used, and how I could use it from that one assignment, than I had learned in my entire academic career until that point. 


Together, these experiences led me to this question: What is the purpose of an English/Literature class, and can’t we better accomplish that goal with a wide variety of books, rather than just the “classics?” Based on my experience, I assumed Literature classes were meant to teach students how to conduct literary analysis, and the value and necessity of literary techniques such as setting and characterization, or rhythm and form in poetry.

If that is the case, you will be hard-pressed to find a better example of setting than Lord of the Rings; Tolkien is well-known for using long-winded descriptions of every single form of plant-life found in his world. But, putting my love for Tolkien aside, wouldn’t a fantasy novel arguably be the best representation of setting, because world-building in fantasy is often so necessary? Or wouldn’t a John Green book be just as good a representation of characterization as Oedipus Rex, because the very plot is centered on the characters’ frames of mind?

And that also goes for poetry. Slam poetry is often the most rhythmic form of poetry, because it is meant to be heard! I could give you list after list of poetry that was written within the last decade that does amazing things with form and will be more relevant to what students are facing now.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it should be about: students relating to literature. They can’t fully understand literature if they can’t relate to it first. Students won’t really have passionate discussions about books if they can’t relate to them. They will never develop a love of reading if they can’t relate to a single book they’ve read. And, if I were an English teacher, and one of my students left my class having learned nothing but a love of reading, I would consider that class a success.

Main Quest

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Any class horror stories of your own? Or maybe a class that helped grow your reading love? What do you think should be the purpose of a Literature class? What books would you like to see taught in classes? Let me know in the comments below!


14 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: The Classic Class Clash

  1. Yes!!!! This post is gold!!! 😍❤
    Agh I cannot express to you how much I love this post.
    I understand that English classes ans classics are basically all that happens, but I have so many friends that HATE reading due to those classes. Like why not introduce literary elements and the such with good representations in contemporary books that they class will probably enjoy more.
    Something that also bothered me was that they expected people who did not read a lot to understand the writing style of the timeframe of whatever book they read. For some people that would not be a problem, but for others it just feels like they are reading another language entirely. I never had this problem, but friends in my classes did.
    Do not get me wrong, I adore classics. I just feel like for people to enjoy the class and reading more, there needs to be a mixture of contmporary and classics. I feel like there would be more readers in the world if they would introduce that at an earlier age. Also, I wish there were more teachers that made the class an equal mixture of fun and learning. Most students do not appreciate a boring and always professional atmosphere.
    It makes me sad that I turned out to be the only bookworm in my graduating class of a whopping 8. I never got to discuss books I read with anyone other than my friend who was older than me by two years. 😂
    Lovely post again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my gosh, a thousand times YES! Like, if someone doesn’t normally read, you can’t expect them to just jump right in and do in-depth literary analysis. That makes no sense!

      And I have so many friends who say they hate reading because of an English class; it makes me so mad! I’ve always loved reading, but it took a while for me to appreciate or enjoy the classics, and I’m still super picky about the ones I actually love! How can you expect someone who’s never enjoyed reading to fall in love with classics? If they mixed it up a little bit, I feel like things would go so much better.

      I think part of it, too, is just that I wasn’t mentally prepared to really think critically about some classics until after high school. Like, I just didn’t have the right mindset or life experience. I had to read Moby Dick for a college class, and I KNOW that if I’d had to read it sooner, I wouldn’t have finished it. Let high school students read some contemporary novels, and as they grow a little as people and readers, they’ll be better prepared to read classics later on.

      And that’s terrible! I lucked out and had two pretty close friends who were real bookworms in my graduating class, so we had some pretty awesome discussions!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Schools need to realize that students are not enjoying just diving into the deep end of literature. Like if they aimed it more towards students with the mindset of they might enjoy and understand it more, maybe there would be more bookworms in the world. Like please schools, not everyone wants to read classics and it is ok if they don’t want to. Not all contemporary books are bad. 😔
        Schools need to let students build up to literary analysis. Maybe start with contemporary and slowly ease in classics as they get more comfortable with it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Exactly! Some contemporary books have TONS of literary value! (not to mention most of the classics are written by straight white dudes; let’s get some diversity in the classroom)

          And like you said, a lot of contemporary books are a great place to start doing literary analysis! Plus, if students enjoy the book more, they’ll be more likely to actually do the work themselves instead of just using a site like Sparknotes to do the work for them.


  2. AGREE AGREE AGREE!! There were many discussions in my English classes in high school and college about why people don’t read them, and the main reason besides not liking to read (gasp!!) is because the story isn’t interesting to them. The problem with the classics that were taught in my school was that they all pretty much followed the same plotline, so kids eventually stopped reading altogether. We need more diversity in the books that people read for school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *daintily faints at the idea of people not liking to read 😱

      I think for the classics we read in my school, the biggest issue was that they were just so dense but also long-winded! A lot of them take 5 pages to say what could’ve been said in 5 sentences. And sometimes that’s good because it opens up discussion about why the author took so long and the nuances of the language being used. But after the first 5 books like that, most high schoolers are ready to give up. Diversity in assigned books would definitely help!


    • Exactly! I have an entire shelf dedicated just to the classics I loved, and I think adding more modern books will only make Lit classes even better!


  3. I think the way people perceive literature and classics depends a lot on the teachers they had. Classics are great, and I love them. They are much more than literature – they’ve become a part of culture and history. I think it’s important to discuss some of them in school. That being said, I don’t see why modern authors should be ignored. We can learn so much from, for example, fantasy, as you’ve mentioned. A variety of reads would be the best. And, what’s even more important – good teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point! I didn’t really like any classics until my senior year of high school when I had a teacher who was passionate about every one he taught!

      And I definitely agree that the classics are important! Just reading a Shakespeare play or hearing someone talk about Big Brother shows how much our culture has been influenced by classics. I just think that, like you said, it would be nice if teachers could sort of supplement those classics with some more modern books.


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