Why Students Should Read the Classics

Why Students Should Read the Classics

February 19, 2020

There are some books and novels that are popular for a season, and others that transcend generations and impact readers throughout history. The classics are those literary works that noteworthy works that are accepted as part of the Western canon. When a true classic is born, it remains in print for years beyond other books. It outlives its author, century, and even millennia. When students interact with literature classics, they step into another world and learn that characters are asking the same questions with which they are wrestling today. Some examples of the classics include:

  • The Iliad and The Odyssey | Homer – 8thCentury BC
  • The Histories | Herodotus – 5th Century BC
  • Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth | Shakespeare – Late 16th, Early 17th centuries
  • Don Quixote | Cervantes – 1605
  • Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities | Charles Dickens – 1838-1859
  • Anne of Green Gables | L.M. Montgomery – 1908 
  • Of Mice and Men | John Steinbeck – 1937 
  • Animal Farm & Nineteen-Eighty Four | George Orwell – 1945-1949 
  • Lord of the Flies | William Golding – 1954 
  • Chronicles of Narnia | C.S. Lewis 1950-1956
  • To Kill a Mockingbird | Harper Lee – 1960 

While your children may complain about reading such "out-dated" works, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences of reading and studying these timeless tales. In this article, we are discussing four reasons students should read the classics:

1) History Repeats Itself

The French philosopher George Santayana said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

What does that mean? There are patterns throughout history that seem to repeat generationally. From wars and famines to the rise and fall of tyrants, if you know the past, you may be able to identify the signs of trouble in the future. Though timeless, the classics are yet influenced by their cultural context, and often relate directly to important historical times. Some even seem to predict the future or at least foreshadow events we experience today. Armed with knowledge of and from the past, your children may be able to avoid mistakes in the future.   

2) Understanding the Human Condition

The classics are timeless in part because the authors are able to understand and articulate the human condition. Some classics capture man’s depravity, while others focus on vain pursuits, while still others show the glimmer of hope that Christians might understand as the image of God shining through the darkness. Classic literature helps Christian students see perspectives of humanity that often closely relate to that which they read in Scripture. 

3) Implications of the Gospel

In addition to learning more about humanity, the classics show students how the gospel shapes our understanding of everything. Books like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Pilgrim’s Progress are allegories of the gospel and the Christian life. To Kill a Mockingbird helps students see the importance of kindness and sacrificial love. Lord of the Flies reinforces the importance of submission to a higher purpose than your immediate surroundings and how much a situation can improve if even a few people have faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

4) They Influence Culture Today

Classic literature provides insight into what influences culture today. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Society’s interests and dynamics in modern times are not unique in the full scope of history. When students study the classics, they may be surprised to find how much an author has to say about what they are currently experiencing. 

At Emmanuel Lutheran School, we are committed to providing students with a well-rounded education that includes important historical works. As the only Lutheran school in Buncombe County, we are uniquely positioned to help students connect what they learn from studying literature, science, and the arts to what God has revealed in Scripture. If you would like more information about how your child can benefit from a Christian education, contact us