The Future of Education: Why Is It Trendy to Trash the Classics?

Although I am trying to be peaceful and positive— avoiding the crowd, steering clear of argument, making chitchat for the greater good, bicycling to save a devastated planet—I have decided to respond to an irresponsible, depressing article published at the Millennial blog, Book Riot“When You Hate the Classics, But You’re an English Teacher.” 

First, let me say I have known many splendid, well-read English teachers.  And yet I have been appalled by others who have not cracked a classic since college.

The writer Lily Dunn may well be of the latter persuasion.  She begins, “Hello, my name is Lily and I hate the Classics. Also, I am an English teacher.”

She writes,

I know what you’re thinking.…but wouldn’t it be more hypocritical if I made my students read books I pretended to love while secretly wishing I could bring the dead author back to life just to tell him (it’s usually a him) how overrated he is? 

Indeed, Dunn is an equal-opportunity enemy of the classics: she spares neither sex in her ravings.  She despises Hawthorne’s The  Scarlet Letter, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Melville’s Moby Dick,  Mark Twain (she finds the dialect too challenging), Joyce’s Ulysses, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  

One does wonder if she has finished  any of these books.  She writes of her loathing of Thomas Hardy, “I can’t expect a 17th century author to be all woke.”  Can’t you imagine her professor writing gently in the margin, “Victorian”? 

I am sure Book Riot has some talented, bright contributors who could have written a thoughtful essay about the classics.

When you click on Dunn’s bio, you will discover that she is not a high school English literature teacher, as she implies, but a literacy teacher in Hong Kong.   


23 thoughts on “The Future of Education: Why Is It Trendy to Trash the Classics?”

  1. Personal likes and dislikes form a wall to unprejudiced experience and thus to learning. We can’t get away from them entirely, and it’s better to be honest and not hypocritically pretend to like what we don’t- I think that’s the root of this trend to diss books that everyone is supposed to admire. But it can go too far! Wiser heads than mine have found meaning in books I can’t bear, and I can respect that even if I don’t share that experience.

        1. Oh, classics is a real category. I studied the Greek and Latin kind, but there are also many English classics. I agree that Book Riot can do better.

          On Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 10:58 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


          1. I meant “the classics” is a category embracing many different kinds of books — even within just the Greek and Latin classics — so dismissing it as a whole is quite the statement. Which I suppose was the point, to be extreme.

  2. “One does wonder if she has finished any of these books. ”
    That’s the charitable view. I wonder if she started any of them. Sidney Smith said “I never read a book before reviewing it. It prejudices a man so.” but he was usually polite about the books he [retended to have read.

  3. Having been, briefly and mostly unsuccessfully, an English teacher, I ask what an English teacher is supposed to teach. Are you to acquaint the students with some of the classics which make up our culture? To read, including the subtle and difficult stuff? To write, and if to write, then to express your emotions or explicate information or make an argument? To spell and punctuate correctly? To speak and write grammatically? To be a better person?

    The answer of course is all of the above. Try it sometime. The classics will be the least of your problems.

    1. Oh, teaching English is very difficult. I’m sure you were excellent, though, since you love books, read the classics, and are very articulate. One can only do so much…

    1. Well, she is actually a literacy teacher! So we don’t need to worry about her teaching literature at this point in time.

  4. “I teach piano, and I hate the classics. Beethoven, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky–they all stink.”

    “I am an art teacher. Rubens, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Reynolds, Van Gogh. Waste of time.”

    1. More classics- trashing!

      Here’s news from Muscovy to delight us both:
      Aseyev, Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky & Co.,
      Those Futurists half a century ago
      Cutting new coats regardless of their cloth.
      “Throw Pushkin overboard!” I quote them straight
      “From the great steamship of modernity!
      Cast Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky to the sea!”
      In 1912 that sounded up-to-date.

      They were poets, and not such bad ones. We may laugh
      And say the future was not theirs to read
      And yet their image was exquisitely just,
      Such emblems as become an epitaph:
      That steamship, obsolete as the Futurist creed,
      That heap of scrap; their sea, that bowl of dust.
      _A.D. Hope

  5. What a strange, misguided article. The author is entitled to her opinion of course, but making such sweeping generalisations about all classic literature seems both ill informed and irrisponsible. It is also quite saddening to think that her prejudices have prevented her from engaging with some great literature.

    1. What a world! It mystifies me that an English major could dislike the classics. And yet she aspires to teach English.

      On Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 11:56 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  6. It’s always frustrating to hear people dismiss what they haven’t had any experience with. But, in the end, it says much more about them than it does about what they’ve dismissed. Or maybe she doesn’t actually hold any of these opinions and is just trying to provoke interest in her article – isn’t BookRiot one of those sites that pays writers based on clicks rather than for the essay? I’ve heard that’s the case, but I’ve never written for them, so I don’t know for sure.

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