The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

More Dead White Men

Why there should be more emphasis on the classics in Parker’s curriculum
More+Dead+White+Men
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

Parker predominantly teaches newer, generally excellent novels, many of which are seeking out diversity in the voices represented through the novels. This is not a call to remove all diversity from curricula or to suggest that there is no value in teaching diverse authors (US literature without African American literature is a curriculum that has failed) but simply that more classics should be incorporated into the curriculum.

Many of the greatest works of literature were, due to systemic injustice, written by dead white men and in Parker’s zeal to rectify the past, many of those books go untaught at Parker. But in not reading those novels and plays, Parker students lose out on exploring some of the most important works of art which raise questions about everything from valor, to God, to purpose, and everything in between. Most importantly, many classics are intended as affirmations of our common humanity.

Over the summer, I read some of what might be considered the cannon of classic literature and was astonished by the universality of what I read. The fear and absurdity found in the Kafka’s short stories speak to the universal experience of being human and its inherent contradictions. Reading Dostoyevsky exposed me to a critique of ontological divisions and the power of religion and irrationality that I think we could all use today. The universal messages and themes exploring what it means to be human are of utmost importance especially as factionalism and dehumanization are gaining power.

Additionally, these novels are often difficult to read, far more difficult than more modern plays and novels. To read Shakespeare, for example, is extremely difficult to do on my own, however, with a teacher it’s much easier to understand the themes and even just the plot of the plays. With a teacher you are able to appreciate the more difficult works of literature. But these are still difficult works. It takes much longer to read The Odyssey, for example, than to read some modern works, and it takes dedication from both students and teachers.

Students need to recognize the importance of these works and how reading more difficult classics will set them up to be better readers, writers, and thinkers and not think of these novels, epic poems, and plays as archaic or somehow not useful today. 

Reading the classics creates a common strong foundation upon which students can build. Western literature has created the world we live in today and to not engage with these elemental texts in the western canon is to ignore centuries of important and useful thought. Without these texts, it becomes harder to engage in conversations, leaves you with a less significant structure upon which to build thought, and can lead to a devaluing of truly humanizing texts. At Parker, we don’t read many of these classics, and we should keep reading many of the books by diverse authors that are building on and becoming part of the canon, but we should ensure that we don’t sideline classics to do so. Modern novels have a lot to offer, but we simply need to create more balance between classics and modern novels. Most importantly, we should build a solid foundation for students and engage earnestly with the difficulty, complexities, and contradictions many of these classics and their authors offer.

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About the Contributor
Arjun Kalra, DEIB Coverage and Internal Development
Arjun Kalra is a senior in his fourth year on "The Weekly" and his first as the Editor of DEIB Coverage and Internal Development. Sophomore year he had a column centered around ways Parker can be improved. Outside of "The Weekly," Arjun is a Model UN captain, photographer, amateur filmmaker, and an avid cook.