Not that I don't love Frank's math videos, but it seems time to get some discussion going about non-math topics. So, what about literature? Why do we bother with it? What makes a classic a classic? And why should we read classics at all?
One of my students recently raised this issue and I believe it is an important one-- central in fact to the role of humanities education in this century. Most "great" literature is so far removed from our lives in the 21st century as to be almost in another galaxy. Those of us who teach literature talk about relating it to our students' lives and those students may even tell us that they learned a lot from a text they read. But what do we actually learn about our own lives when we read "classics"? Why is it "good for us" to read such literature? Why does having that kind of background still make people consider us more educated?
In other words, what would we actually lose out on, if we just started studying and/or teaching books we enjoy rather than those works that others have stamped as works of great literature? How many of us actually enjoy the classics and would pick them up to read on our own, without being required to read them for a class assignment? To get specific here, how many of you read Shakespeare before you go to sleep or on a plane trip? Beowulf? Steinbeck, maybe?