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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teach old, 'problematic' books


Teach old books, argues Daniel Buck, author of author of What Is Wrong with Our Schools?, on Fordham's Flypaper blog.


Yes the language may be challenging, the culture unfamiliar and the sexes binary, he writes. But there's more to learn from classic literature than from the brand-new young-adult (YA) fiction that's now recommended.

"When I read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography with my students, they concurrently learned about chattel slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, slave songs and spirituals, the Antebellum South, and the Civil War," Buck writes. "A piece of young adult fiction, where the youthful protagonist cavorts around modern America, provides no such opportunity; students already know the context."

"Old books can shake us from the bias of the present," writes Buck. "In old books we discover the great and beautiful literature that most eloquently distills the human experiences and expresses the ideas worth knowing, the heroes and villains of histories worth emulating and fearing, and the events that shaped our society."


Readers may "discover that human nature hasn’t changed," he adds, and find themes in Beowulf or Gilgamesh that resonate today.

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