Required And Allowed Reading

In a stack of papers called Reading.

  • Apr
  • 12
  • 2006

What books should be added to the approved reading list? Which titles should be cleared for instruction in high-school classrooms? Do you have any suggestions to add to the age old list of mostly canonical literature we teach to teenagers?

Should required reading lists exist anymore? Does it really matter what books are read, as long as standards are addressed? If literacy is promoted, critical thinking encouraged, and interpretations discovered, does the title of the text taught to do these things honestly matter? Is limiting the number of approved novels an old paradigm that doesn’t take into account changes in society over the last 10, 20, or 30 years? Will a high school education without To Kill A Mockingbird really be any less significant than one with that novel? If reading a specific text doesn’t mean the difference between a complete and an incomplete education, then how can that specific text be so important as to require that all teachers address it?

Simply using the term “required reading” turns reading into a chore. If the joy of the journey for me as a teacher slowly drains, imagine what it does to our students. Required reading almost always is boring and meaningless by virtue of the fact it’s required. To say that there is a novel or series of novels that will work with our students, across the entire district, is naive. To say that the same series of novels will work with all the teachers leading the trip through the tale borders on ignorant.

On the flip side of this, what should be allowed reading? Should the titles available to our teachers be limited in any way? Excusing novels with gratuitous sex and violence, isn’t any title suitable to be taught in schools? Don’t seemingly simplistic novels hold the potential for powerful instruction depending on the teacher? Don’t time-honored classics hold potential for miserable instruction depending on the teacher?

Today, we approved the following books for the following classes:

Title Author Course
The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien English 3
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho English 2
Chronicle of a Death Foretold Gabriel Garcia Marquez AP English Lit
Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri AP English Lit
America Is in the Heart Carlos Bulosan English 3
The Secret Life of Bees Sue Kidd Monk English 3
The Importance of Being Ernest Oscar Wilde English 4
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte English 4
A Lesson Before Dying Ernest Gaines Comp and Lit
The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon Comp and Lit

The Kite Runner, Picture Bride, The Bluest Eye, and In the Time of Butterflies will come up for discussion next school year to be added to our list of approved books, the list teachers can pull titles from to address in the classroom. What other titles should we be looking into?


1. Debbie says:

[4/13/2006 - 2:16 pm]

Interesting – Jane Eyre for English 4. In my 2nd-tier private high school in 1991, Jane Eyre was required reading for 9th grade.

2. Todd says:

[4/13/2006 - 4:06 pm]

Jane Eyre as required reading, first off, frightens me. For it to be required reading of freshmen, even more so. I’m not sure I would have gotten anything out of that book reading it at the ripe old age of 13 or 14.

What a sad comment that the same literature we read in high school is being read today. Is that to suggest that nothing anywhere near as good and worthy has been produced in the last 15 years? Eck!

I read Jane Eyre in English 4, right after we read Great Expectations. It should be noted, though, that Great Exectations is a freshman-level book for in my/our district. I don’t think the reading levels of those two books are very far apart so I wonder why the feeling was so strong that Jane Eyre be at the English 4 level.

3. merri says:

[4/28/2006 - 7:05 pm]

I love Tony Early’s “Jim, The Boy”. Beautifully written in a clean, accessible prose. I saw it in a Barnes and Noble as summer reading for schools in North Carolina. Wish the North would pick up on it.