Some days ago I was in a grade 10 class and students were reading Romeo and Juliet. I asked some of them how they liked it and most didn't seem very enthusiastic. They pointed out the difficulty of the language and the difficulty to understand all the cultural aspects in the play. Then, a young man mentioned that he didn't understand why they had to read the classics. To clarify his point, he told me that even his mother had read Romeo and Juliet at high school and she was 50 now. As you can imagine, my thoughts were racing. We kept on talking and, of course, I spoke about the importance of the classics which laid the foundations of today's culture and knowledge. I explained that in grade 12, he will be reading adaptations of classical Greek texts. He was appalled that they would have to read something even older than Shakespeare!
At that point, I made a bet with him to prove the importance of the classics and the influence of Greek in our culture. I would give him $10 if he knew less than 10 English words originating from ancient Greek. If he knew more, I would win and he would need to re-evaluate the influence of the classics in his life. And people still wonder why teachers never get rich! The results are obvious and I look forward to seeing how his views have changed.
This was not an isolated incident - many Canadian students and also Spanish students I taught find reading the classics a difficult task. These languages have changed a great deal; moreover, teenagers have trouble grasping the cultural, historical and even religious references in these texts. Yes, we keep telling them that love in Romeo and Juliet is still love and Don Quijote's idealism can be still found in our world but the concepts become increasing "remote" to us.
Should we use the Spanish classics in our bilingual program? I believe so. There are two key facts to help students be successful: increased collaboration and using adapted books. Thanks to their studies in ELS and social, students are already familiar with the Middle Ages and Renaissance history. We can take advantage of this and use their knowledge to better understand and enjoy Spanish classics. In fact, this would be a perfect illustration of interdisciplinary study!
Reading the original version of El Lazarillo is hard for a teenager in any Spanish speaking country, let alone for our students. Fortunately, there are many available adapted versions of the classics and they can open many doors for us.
In this post, I have been discussing largely Spanish classics, but what about more modern texts? Are they classics too? Absolutely. Short stories by Borges, Cortázar o Aldecoa, among many others, have already become "modern classics" and we can utilise these texts in teaching too.
I am sure that there are many publishers that offer adapted versions of the Spanish classics that we can use in our bilingual programs. These are just some possibilities: Santillana, Anaya, SGEL, Edelsa.
Perhaps we can take a page from the lesson we learned from the student who thought he didn't know Greek-rooted words too. Why not take some time to re-evaluate how we are and are not using classical texts in our bilingual classes?