I have been following a discussion on my Goodreads group ostensibly about "Overrated Books," but which led to a discussion of classics. This is my contribution: Another take on "Classics."
I was a librarian and a teacher and I started a book group on the classics. There are a number of patrons who came up in the 70's and 80's and never read any; no Dickens, no Hawthorne, no Twain, no Shakespeare...nothing! They felt they were lacking, especially because they couldn't understand literary references, and they couldn't read any classics when they did pick them up because the sentences were too long, the vocabulary was too difficult, and they couldn't understand the complex motivations of the characters.
So, in my book club of about 10 people, we used the Modern Library 100 Best Novels and other similar lists to pick from. We each picked the books we wanted to read. For the two who hadn't read any of the books, we suggested Dracula and The Scarlet Letter. One person wanted to read more of the Lost Generation...Hemingway, Faulkner etc. and I decided to read more Dickens, Conrad, and attempt to read Rushdi and Morrison again.
We came back each month and discussed what we read. It was amazing! I didn't like the Lost Generation, but I learned enough from the person who did, to try one she read and appreciated it. It was the discussion that made the difference. Many of the classics take study. I got in Cliff's Notes and Monarch Notes on the books people were interested in and we discussed them. We did this for a year. I still don't like Salman Rushdi or Toni Morrison, and I am not certain if they will stand the test of time, but I see much more in them than I did before.
I don't exactly know how you get around this, but most high school students are too young and too unmotivated to appreciate many of the classics; however, if they don't read and study them, they will never get the skills to read them. It's a catch 22. Classics have long sentences, difficult vocabulary and abstract and philosophical content, but reading and studying them is the only way you can develop the skills to read others.
So why bother? I don't want to get political, but the mess in Congress is a good example of why. People on both sides cling tenaciously to their own point of view and can't understand the perspective of others or the limitations of their own thinking that is exactly why we study literature!