Should high school students read texts like The Canterbury Tales?

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kcoleman2016 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are convincing arguments for both sides of this question. Let's go through each one: 

Yes, high school students should read texts like The Canterbury Tales.

  • Classic Canon: The canon is the collection of literature considered "classic" or extremely important across the ages. Many of the books in today's high school curriculum are part of the canon: The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, etc. People think that they should be read because "everyone reads them". It's sort of like an educational rite of passage that lets you into the club of the people who are considered knowledgeable. 
  • The Evolution of Literature: As The Canterbury Tales are so old, they provide a good foundation for studying the history of literature, particularly English literature. It's interesting to see what has changed and what has stayed the same in the way of themes, characters, plots, and literary devices. To understand something, it's important to know what came before it!
  • Historical Context: It's cool to learn about cultures that used to exist and the languages, practices, and beliefs that characterized them. Reading texts like The Canterbury Tales allows us to explore and understanding a culture that preceded ours, and like with the previous bullet, better know ourselves. 

No, high school students should read texts like The Canterbury Tales.

  • Outdated & Irrelevant: Texts like The Canterbury Tales are so old that they no longer have any relevance to the modern student. Students cannot understand nor relate to any of the characters or their lives, and that means that the literature is no longer useful. 
  • Replaces Modern Alternatives: Many wonderful modern texts go unread by today's students because of the mythical powers of the canon. If the creators of curriculum could simply move on from the idea of the canon, more modern (and therefore more relevant) literature of equal or even better quality could be employed in the classroom instead. This would make students more interested in their coursework and therefore more engaged in the classroom. 
  • Unnecessarily Difficult: Texts like The Canterbury Tales that employ archaic language are unnecessarily difficult for modern students, who end up spending all of their time and energy just trying to figure out what is going on and do not get to actually enjoy the text at all. 
Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

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