Should high school reading lists be more relevant to today's kids?

Is it time to dump the Bard? Some school boards think so. In a move to make English classes more relevant to students of different backgrounds, many are opting for an updated and more diverse reading list.
Some school boards have changed their reading lists in order to better reflect today's students. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)
Listen to the full episode1:53:00

Sunday on Cross Country Checkup: Shaking the Shakespeare habit 

Is it time to dump the Bard?  Some school boards think so. In a move to make English classes more relevant to today's students, many are opting for an updated and more diverse reading list. But does relevance mean dropping some of the classics?

What do you think? Doth they protest too much? Would a newer reading list still smell as sweet?

This autumn, the Peel School Board in Ontario asked its teachers to reconsider teaching classics such as Romeo and Juliet, To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies in favour of more "culturally relevant" texts. An Ottawa high school has taken Shakespeare completely off the grade 11 reading list, to focus exclusively on Indigenous authors. And the Alberta government is currently reviewing its entire curriculum to better reflect diversity. 

Some say students understand a story and it's themes better, if they see themselves in books they read instead of
Host of Cross Country Checkup, Duncan McCue.
 plodding through dead ones that may, at times, be at odds with how we see race or equality today. Others believe authors such as Shakespeare speak to the human condition and give us a link to the past... and that rewriting curriculum is an exercise in social engineering.

What do you think is it time to dump the Bard and other classics? Student bodies in Canada are more and more diverse - will new voices ensure English lit classes resonate with today's students? Would an updated reading list improve attendance or graduation rates amongst Indigenous and minority students? Or do you think the literary canon has educational value no matter in what era those books were written?

Our question this week: Should high school reading lists drop some classics to be more relevant to kids today?


Lynn Filliter
High school English teacher and department head at Jean Augustine Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.

Poleen Grewal
Associate Director with the Peel District school Board in Mississauga, Ont. 

Robert Cushman
Drama critic for the National Post newspaper

Ann Lopez
Former high school teacher and now Associate Professor at OISE - the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Ken Coates
Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy University of Saskatchewan