The other day, I participated in a tour of Gramercy Park, a section of New York
City that included the homes of several famous American writers, among them
John Steinbeck, William Sydney Porter (aka O. Henry), and Washington Irving. The tour comprised an eclectic group, with a number of foreign visitors, so the guide mentioned that high school students read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Irving. As we proceeded to our next stop, I disclosed to our “thirty-something” guide that my experience indicated that the story no longer generally appeared on the required reading list in most high schools. His response: “Well, it should,” to which I agreed.
After that interchange, I began to consider how many high schools had required
reading lists at all. I did some research and discovered that literature guidelines in the local area exist for “suggested reading,” only. The Connecticut Common Core states, “English Language Arts teachers select and create materials based on instructional purpose, literary merit, impact of the medium, parameters of the curriculum, and students’ developmental needs.” Admittedly, these standards need to be general, but no mention of any literature appears.
The Success for All Foundation provides, “a whole-school reform strategy, research proven to increase student achievement . . . It features Powerful Instruction: A cooperative-learning framework engages students in rich discussion and motivating challenges every day. Detailed lesson resources for reading make planning easy and include rich media supports to develop vocabulary, background knowledge, fluency, and discussion skills.” This program does mention a few authors and poets to include in a rich curriculum, notably A. C. Doyle, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Emma Lazarus.
The website, wannalearn.com, presents “A list of books generally considered to be classics in English literature, divided into categories of classic literature appropriate for adults, teenagers and children. All are originally published before 1960, and are recognized by many of the most respected public and private schools throughout the United States and abroad. These books have entertained and educated young and old for generations, and offer insight into the most basic tools and tenets of Western civilization, often revealing essential truths about human nature”
That statement includes a lofty goal, and isn’t that the aim of a well-rounded education? Inquire about your school’s reading list.