Turning the page: An inside look at the English curriculum

by Norah Findley and Catherine Youn

Walking into English class, there’s a good chance you’re reading the same books that your parents did back in the day: “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But there is a nationwide movement to reconsider if these books are outdated for a modern curriculum. We sought out some new opinions on the topic from an important source: English teachers themselves.

Ms. Crooks, of Honors English 11 and 12, would like to see some expansion in the current reading curriculum. She mentioned bringing in authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to update the World Literature curriculum and plans to incorporate more books written by female authors into her Contemporary Fiction class in order to offer a variety of perspectives. Ms. Crooks is not alone in her vision for a more contemporary approach to literature; in fact, Ms. Jaretsky, of English 9, already employs “a modern lens” when teaching the typical classics like “Romeo and Juliet.” Recently, she added independent reading to her class structure, offering variety by allowing students to choose a modern book to read.

Are there benefits to keeping the classics in our classrooms? Ms. Crooks explains that Lord of the Flies, originally published in the 50s, offers lessons that are still beneficial to students today.

However, she points out that modern books keep students more engaged, turning them into “lifetime readers.” Ms. Jaretsky acknowledges the need for classic literature, and the pressure to keep it in the classroom. However, she sees room to add diversity by supplementing novels with short stories, poetry and essays. During our conversations with the teachers, we asked about a topic that seems to be all over the news recently: book banning. Ms. Crooks and Ms. Jaretsky offered different viewpoints on this complex debate. When it comes to banning books, Ms. Crooks “hates the idea,” while Ms. Jaretsky has “mixed feelings.” While banning books is often done for the wrong reasons, some content is legitimately offensive or outdated. It may be beneficial to remove these texts, but would this set a harmful precedent? Despite differing views, both teachers agreed that all books, especially classics, should be taught with context and historical background.

In the end, finding the right balance of books for a 21st century English classroom is tough, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s our GRHS English Teachers!