I had the strange experience, not so long ago, of making a trip to an Educational Supplies office, to purchase some text books.
Whilst there I happened to have a stroll around and thought it would be worthwhile perusing the High School section in the English department to see which novels were available.
The novels’ section has two ceiling to floor bookcases (think IKEA standard Billy bookcases) of novels for year 7-12. The books on display here generally represent the popular books used in schools in the large Metropolitan city it serves.
As my eyes glanced over the bookcases I suddenly realised that there wasn’t anything here that I recognised. So I had a closer look and sure enough a couple of classic novels caught my eye: a Jane Austen novel and another from George Orwell if I recall correctly.
I was struck by the dearth of quality literature available not only to Senior High school students but to middle school years too.
What seemed to be the standard fair was a plethora of novels with a teenage protagonist who was either fleeing from some form of persecution or other, or finding their way through the adolescent years sans guidance.
I got the uneasy feeling that the victim genre had firmly established itself in our local secondary schools. This is not surprising and merely reflects the mentality of progressive education and the state of wider society in general.
The other thing I noted that almost all of the books were slim in stature, denoting the lean word count of the novels available. Now word count doesn’t necessarily indicate quality, but certainly many of the classic novels that have stood the test of time, have required the word count in the hundred(s) of thousands to really establish a rich story-line and characterisation.
My own experience in High Schools has shown me that students (and parents) complain endlessly about the chore of reading larger classic novels. This is a terrible pity but is the reality that English teachers (who care) face today.
The irony is, that students quickly become accustomed to reading larger books and acclimatise to the vernacular of the era they are reading, very quickly. Within a chapter or two they are tuned into the novel and enjoying the most excellent of literature, if only they were given the chance.
There is so much to choose from the classic authors that it would be futile to try and cover that broad range from here, but the common characteristic is that they are books that exude in highlighting the real difference between good and evil through the virtues, or lack of them, within the characters.
I don’t see this in modern novels to any notable extent. There are many books being put before our children that abound in rebelliousness, immorality and anti-authoritarianism. There are also far too many books that wallow in victimhood.
This is not just a problem in High school. Primary teachers are being pushed similar rubbish like The Minions for example.
Only teachers can begin to reverse these trends and go back to the classics for books that offer sound content that will help our students develop their intellects in a true manner. The vast majority of parents unfortunately are far too trusting of educational authorities to question the choice of novels and textbooks used in their children’s classrooms.
There are many places to look for novels that are sound to use in our schools. This previous post gives a few places to start.
The works of Stevenson, Waugh, Scott, Dickens, Hardy, Tolkien, are just some examples of authors who will provide an abundance of solid reading material for class selection.
For a thorough review of classics from a Catholic perspective, I recommend Joseph Pearce’s Catholic Literary Giants: A Field Guide to the Catholic Literary Landscape