Do the Classics put teenagers off reading?

by Sarah Adams

The Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and children's author David Walliams issue a call to publishers and schools to make English pupils Europe's most literate.

Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan argued that:

Books by Authors including Jane Austen and Charles Dickens should be made available for all pupils to enjoy them. ...If a child fails to learn how to read - the consequences can be nothing short of devastating, holding them back for the rest of their lives.

The aim is for every secondary school to have sets of a wide range of classics, to improve reading standard as a Nation and to tackle the 'long tail of underachievement' .

So why do teenagers find the Classics boring?

There are arguably many reasons that a larger contemporary audience may struggle with older works of literature.

  • Inaccessibility: A lot of teenagers struggle to identify with, for example, the whims of the landed gentry as so well portrayed by Austen and so find the stories a bit inaccessible.
  • The Prose: Factors such as distance from the subject matter, the archaic nature of the vocabulary and the formal structure of the language can be pretty hard going. (Has anyone - other than English undergraduates - ever finished a Dickens novel?)
  • Technology: Today's children's lives don't naturally have space for reading. They grow up with a continuous stream of entertainment - endless TV channels, digital devices and on-demand access.

How do we make the Classics interesting?

There's no doubt the Classics are great vocabulary boosters (indeed, how would we survive without knowing that 'consumption' also means tuberculosis - that most common of literary killers) and the role they play in illustrating correct grammar is invaluable in the era of the wandering apostrophe.

I am absolutely determined to make sure that every child, no matter where they live or what their background, learns to read, to read widely and to read well - giving them the best opportunity to get on in life.

The plot can be glacial in pace when compared to today's world of Fast and Furious films and Xbox games in which characters explode long before consumption takes hold of them.

So what is a tutor to do to make them engaging and how can a parent entice their teenagers to surrender the iPad and take up the humble paperback? Is it a battle worth fighting? We'd love to know your thoughts!

Tags: Classics Literature Reading
Categories: English