A recent article from better-ed.org gives us a glimpse of reading lists from 100 years ago and compares them to the public reading lists of today.
The writer compares the reading curriculum from back then to that of a wealthier public school district of today and noticed some rather striking differences.
Today’s reading curriculum for 7th and 8th graders consists of books mostly written in the last 20 years. Back then, (100 years ago), more than half of their readers were at least 20 years old, and the rest were 50 to 100 years old.
In terms of the themes explored, the older selections are filled with historical references from Ancient Greece up to the founding of America. Before students were in high school they would already have been introduced to major ideas and themes from The Western Canon. Today students are required to read books about the Taliban, cloning, illegal immigration, and “troubled youth.”
The great literature that composes The Western Canon has been contested since the 1960’s. Critical theory, feminism, critical race theory, and Marxist lenses challenge the books themes in the canon that deal with capitalism and classical liberal principles.
Check out the article for examples of the difference in reading level, they are most striking.
Opponents of The Western Canon argue that it is merely written by “dead European Men” and does not represent the viewpoints of our modern world.
Ironically, if students started to read passages from The Western Canon, they may become increasingly motivated to read more, or if they simply got their hands on good literature in general, somehow.