My response: The study of literature is intended to give students a lens into the ideas and stories that shape society (present and past) as well as to expose them to the complexity of human development, through time. All sorts of fiction genres create scaffolding for philosophies, ideologies, the politics of relationships, the exploration of the logical end of imagined scenarios, the psychology behind particular actions and events, and more. Literature also exposes students to uses of language not available in non-fiction, and creates a series of cultural touchstones for shared understanding that transcend mere fact.
In short, literature provides an avenue of expanded imagination and language for the sake of both appreciating beauty and human depths, while sharing the experience with other readers (creating a kind of connection and community through shared story). We consider the reading of literature to be one of the ways we create societal cohesion!
Now onto the real question: do they HAVE to study it?
Kids don’t have to study lit any more than they have to study trigonometry or post-modernism or physics or sculpture. Some exposure to literature is valuable just like some exposure to advanced math and science has value. But for kids who are not enamored with literature, keep it to a minimum just like you would if you were raising an actress who never imagined using the quadratic equation in her future but who wanted to go to college and so needed to take Algebra 2.
Make it as painless as possible. Select works of fiction that are more easily accessible (popular story lines with fast-aced writing). Learn how to identify themes, imagery, plot arc, and characterization. Appreciate the use of language (note what sort it is, examine why it works or doesn’t). Learn to write one literary analysis essay in high school so when it happens in Freshman English in college, it won’t be your child’s first attempt.
Cross-posted on facebook.