The Importance of Reading the Classics

  • 546
  • 15
  • 4
  • English 
Oct 17, 2017 01:43
Back in high school, we students were required to study excerpts of classic works in Mandarin class. Apart from that, there was a semester-long project where we picked themes ourselves and wrote book reports. However, none of us liked reading or thought it was completely a waste of time because we had to prepare for the Gaokao (China’s SAT).

Today one of my coworkers told me that she was picking a book for her kid’s reading project but had no idea which one to choose. She said her boy acted like she was pulling his fingernails because “she’d picked several boring books and forced him to read.” She asked me whether I had a good one to recommend.

To be honest, I couldn’t think of a good one off hand, because it depended on her kid’s interest. The kid could read literally any book his wanted, as long as it was reading-level appropriate, be it a thriller or a children’s book. We can get kids to really push their limits if we allow them to pick things that they care about or are interested in, instead of forcing them to read classic works, not only because the texts are abstruse for them, but also because, in my opinion, one has to live long enough to acquire more context to understand those books.

Life experience definitely helps one relate to characters more. For example, recently I read Bai Juyi’s poetry (Tang Dynasty) for pleasure, and it blew me away. I loved every page of it, but as I read it, I thought back to high school and realized that I’d have probably hated it back then because I didn’t have the depth of experience to appreciate it. Many schools do their students a disservice by foisting books like that upon them at too early an age.

However, reading classic works does benefit students in many ways, especially in this social media era when it’s far too easy to create an echo chamber. Forcing them out of their comfort zones and exposing them to different ideas and cultures, together with art and values that can stand the test of time, is important. I think there might be a middle ground, where students can read books they enjoy but also which stretch them a little bit. Practically speaking, that’s difficult though.