Why do American school systems only study English literature?
May, 23 2023
The Roots of the American Education System
As an American, I often wonder why our education system seems to focus primarily on English literature. It's true that English is our national language, but with such a diverse population and an ever-expanding global community, shouldn't we be broadening our horizons? In this article, I'll explore the origins of our education system's focus on English literature and discuss the various reasons behind this trend.
A Historical Perspective on the American Education System
When examining the roots of the American education system, it's important to recognize that our country was founded by English settlers who brought with them their language and traditions, including their love for English literature. This historical connection to England played a significant role in shaping the early American education system, which has evolved over time to maintain a heavy focus on English literature. As our nation grew and diversified, so too did our educational system, but the emphasis on English literature remained.
Founding Fathers and Their Love for Literature
Our Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were avid readers and writers, and they greatly valued English literature. This reverence for the written word likely influenced their ideas about education and helped to solidify the importance of studying English literature in American schools. While it's true that these early Americans valued other subjects as well, their passion for literature is evident in their writings and has undoubtedly played a role in shaping the American education system.
The Standardization of the English Language
As the United States grew and more people began to speak English as their primary language, it became increasingly important to establish a standard form of the language. By focusing on English literature, American schools were able to teach students not only to appreciate great works of fiction but also to understand and utilize the English language effectively. This focus on standardization likely contributed to the continued emphasis on English literature in American education.
The Influence of British Writers
Throughout history, British writers have had a profound impact on the world of literature. From Shakespeare to Jane Austen, British authors have penned some of the most enduring and beloved works of fiction. This rich literary tradition has undoubtedly played a role in shaping the American education system's focus on English literature, as students in the United States are often exposed to these classic works throughout their schooling.
The Importance of Cultural Literacy
Another reason that American schools might focus on English literature is the importance of cultural literacy. In order to fully understand and appreciate the history and culture of our own country, it's crucial to be familiar with the works of literature that have shaped our national identity. By studying English literature, American students are able to gain a deeper understanding of the values, beliefs, and ideas that have helped to define American culture.
A Unifying Force in a Diverse Nation
With a population as diverse as the United States, it's important to find ways to bring people together and foster a sense of shared identity. One way in which our education system accomplishes this is through the study of English literature. By exposing students to a common body of literature, American schools are able to create a shared cultural experience that transcends regional, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences.
The Role of English as a Global Language
As English has become the dominant global language, it's more important than ever for American students to be well-versed in English literature. By focusing on the study of English literature, American schools are helping to prepare students to participate in an increasingly interconnected world, where a strong command of the English language is often essential for success.
Preparing Students for College and Beyond
A strong foundation in English literature is often necessary for success in higher education. Many college courses, particularly those in the humanities, require students to read, analyze, and write about complex works of literature. By exposing students to English literature throughout their primary and secondary education, American schools are helping to prepare them for the rigors of college and beyond.
Conclusion: A Tradition Worth Preserving?
While it's true that American schools tend to focus heavily on English literature, it's important to recognize the historical, cultural, and practical reasons behind this trend. Perhaps it's time for our education system to reevaluate this focus and consider incorporating more diverse literary traditions into the curriculum. However, it's also worth acknowledging the value of studying English literature, as it has played a crucial role in shaping our national identity and preparing students for success in a rapidly changing world.