The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

QOTD – January 17 – When Do The Classics Just Become Old?

My students don’t farm, so Of Mice and Men seems like a terrible choice for most of them. There are some students who will understand, and maybe even appreciate, the bond between George and Lenny, but for the most part, they don’t farm, so they don’t care. The book feels old to them, and slow to them, so they check out. Frankly, I don’t farm either, so it seems old to me as well.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that a book is old does not automatically make it slow, or boring, or bad. But, it does sometimes make it too out-of-place for a teenager in today’s world.

I’m in my 10th year of teaching, and I’ve found that my students are needing more and more modern texts. I’ve spent so much time focused on reading the classics, or a few more modern authors that appeal to me, that I have had to challenge myself to expand my palate in order to reach my students. It’s actually made teaching a bit more exciting to me lately, and nothing beats hearing a student tell you that their favorite unit was one that involved an Allie Brosh short story that was just released a few months ago. New material feels new, and is therefore exciting.

There are so many classics out there, but the students need something to grab their attention before we can push Steinbeck in their faces.

Question of the Day:

When Do The Classics Just Become Old?


About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

6 comments on “QOTD – January 17 – When Do The Classics Just Become Old?

  1. Robert Long
    January 17, 2014

    I say a book becomes old after 100 years. Because there will be a few generation s that will read and study that book, but eventually the classic book that was a best seller when it came out, will be simply old to a generation that is so removed from that time period, and the technology has changed so much, that they can’t picture themselves moving hay adound and sleeping in a bunkhouse with twelve other men.

  2. Katherine Shirley
    January 17, 2014

    When the message starts to seem at odds with the setting. If the setting of the text is so alien to the reader than they have no viable frame of reference to be able to use to decode it, then the message of the book may be lost to them. That does not mean the message is irrelevant, nor that it is beyond the capacity of the reader to appreciate it, but it does mean more groundwork will be needed before the reader will be in a position to relate the story to their own experience and so understand the message.

  3. theparisreviewblog
    January 17, 2014

    This is such a great question for this day and age. As someone with a literary review blog, I think these classics should never become old, but sadly, they are being called that very word. I think if we explain to students the importance of Steinbeck in a way they can understand, then we can teach them the novel. But the question is then, how can we explain this? Great post!

  4. secondratecyclist
    January 23, 2014

    The point of OMAM having to do with farming is where I’m still stunned. I’ve been teaching American literature for 13 years and taught many Steinbeck novels. OMAM has the most incredible message to teach young teenagers today: love, devotion, hatred, sadness, loss, dreams, failure, regret, and on and on. Some novels are timeless; this is one of them.

  5. Jaxon Skeen
    January 28, 2014

    I believe the song “Springsteen” will become a classic not only because its already about a classic but it also talks about a real human story.

  6. Hailey Buehler
    January 28, 2014

    Who says classics have to become old? Yeah okay they might really be old in age, but the stories are still great. You could learn something new from them whenever you watch them. Most classics are so much better than the books and movies now. People don’t usually watch/read things that are too old now because they think they will be cheesy or dumb. I personally love them.

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