ERIC Number: ED326877
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1990-Nov
Reference Count: 0
Do We Have, or Have We Had, a Literary Canon in Our Secondary Schools? What Literature Surveys Reveal.
A study investigated the contention that secondary school literature programs have offered, and continue to offer, what could be construed as a literary canon, a relatively small body of literary texts to which a majority of students have been and are continuing to be exposed. Several surveys of the literary works teachers assign, dating back to 1907, were examined and revealed several trends. First, there is a clear shift from a predominantly British curriculum to a predominantly American one from 1907 to 1990. A study of students' reading interests in 1950 revealed that major changes in the literature curriculum had taken place by mid-century. Only 12 titles on a 1964 list had also been on the 1907 survey list, and almost half of the top 40 titles were by Americans. Second, many major characters in works of fiction are now adolescents. Third, many of the top 40 titles for grades 7-12 are now suitable for students with moderate reading ability. Finally, there seems to be a decline in tales of adventure and humor as well as in collections of poems and serious essays. To judge by these lists, there does not seem to be any strong evidence for the existence of a canon in high school literature programs over the past century. Most secondary school students in this country now read few literary works in common. These findings raise a number of questions for English teachers concerning intellectual content, moral content, and civic mission of the schools. (Four tables of data are included.) (KEH)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Information Analyses
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Cultural Literacy; Educational Issues; English Teachers; Literary Canon
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English (80th, Atlanta, GA, November 16-21, 1990).