Certain novels can be found on the shelves of our bookstores long after they were written. Novels that tell a good story never go out of style. We have the great classics of international literature that we often find ourselves rediscovering¾they always have something more to teach and reveal to us. Today’s youth need to pick up these classic tales and rediscover the beauty and wisdom found within their pages.
How is it possible to rediscover the classics in this day and age, where the continuous development of technology and the limitless advancement of social media seems to leave not an ounce of spare time for reading? As McLuhan demonstrated, every new medium of communication introduces a cultural gain and loss at the same time. Today's generation, through the enhancement of audiovisual technology and the use of the internet, has radically changed the way it imagines, learns, and reasons. Therefore, we must admit that we are in the midst of an educational crisis¾starting with the way literature is studied in school and college. We need to analyze how it is we read and how we do not read.
Reading seems to play a truly minimal role in teenagers’ lives. However, the pandemic has posed a challenge to our downtime, leading us to uncover unexpected data about young peoples’ reading habits.
GoStudent: research reveals young people's reading habits
The online learning platform GoStudent found that, for more than half of the Italian teens surveyed, the pandemic has positively affected their reading habits: 51% read more and only 8% experienced a decline in reading as a result of Covid-19. This positive trend also affects young people in other countries, such as Turkey, Mexico, and Spain; however, a more dire situation was found in Greece and Germany. A survey conducted in seven international areas, through which about 1,000 parents of teenagers ages 11 - 18 were given a survey about their children's reading habits and preferences.
That survey showed that the top-rated genres are fiction and adventure. Some of the most popular books in these genres are the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings series, as well as books by Agatha Christie and Stephen King. Following these two genres, in terms of popularity, we have science fiction, comics, and manga.
The surveys showed that many young people take up reading because the school requires it. This is not necessarily a negative finding, but it makes us reflect on how important the role of schools is in educating adolescents to read the classics of universal literature, which continue to fill a fundamental role in the education of young people.
The challenge is to teach youth how to read the great novels of literary history not simply by studying the relationships within each piece, but by connecting the relationship between the story and the world. After all, literature expands our horizons, leading us to imagine new ways of seeing and understanding the world around us.
Research on youth and literature
The importance of the classics has also been addressed in a study conducted by Family and Media, exhibited in the book Educating young people through the classics - Love, Friendship and storytelling . This book emphasizes the educational potential that stories have in the character development of today’s youth. Similar to GoStudent's research, Family and Media seeks to discover which movies and books young people prefer, recognizing “narrative intelligence” as a proper response to today's educational crisis.
The original goal of the research focuses on six great classics which were reworked for the big screen. The study focused on the themes of love and friendship and how they are presented to young people in a new and profound way, stimulating them to think, read, and rediscover their appreciation for good literature.
Adolescence is a time in all our lives that defines our character and personalities. That is why it is so important to offer youth the right tools to help them along through these years. We can offer them tools that will help them “read” reality and come to understand the inner world that each work brings.
Forming a young person’s taste in literature, film, music, etc. is a daunting task that is mostly controlled by parents. However, schools contribute a lot, too, as they offer youth plenty of opportunities to read and get to know what sort of literature they like¾perhaps even presenting them with books that would have otherwise been lost. There is such a need for capable, passionate teachers¾capable in the sense that they are knowledgeable and can passionately convey this knowledge to their students. It is this virtuous loop that allows a teenager to mature and develop his or her own consciousness and critical spirit. Only then does one truly learn. Otherwise, one learns by memory and sooner or later forgets everything.
All that remains, then, is to wish for what Todorov proposes regarding the education of young people: "What better introduction to understanding human behavior and feelings than to immerse oneself in the works of the great writers who have dedicated themselves to this task for millennia? What better preparation for all professions based on human relationships? If one understands literature in this way and orients his or her learning in this way, what more valuable aid could the future student of law or political science, or the future social worker, or those involved in psychotherapy, the historian, or the sociologist study? Wouldn't having Shakespeare and Sophocles, Dostoevsky and Proust as teachers be like taking advantage of truly exceptional teaching?"