Originally Posted by HarryT
One of the purposes - perhaps the main purpose - of studying English literature is to gain knowledge of the shared cultural heritage which literature provides. Eg, Dickens and Shakespeare have both contributed enormously to the English language, and it's useful to know where those quotes and characters actually come from.
It is, and a shared sense of culture is important.
However, "classic literature" often means "the literature of wealthy straight white men"... insisting that everyone have a good foundation in those books guarantees that the current status quo has strong hooks in every community.
Part of changing the culture of the past--which, for all its value, had a lot of sexism, racism, and other problems--is finding the works of art and literature that *don't* reflect those values, and teaching them as equally worthy. Which usually means, "find more recent works," because a hundred years ago or more, getting published was much harder for anyone not at the top of the status-heap.
Oscar Wilde can't have been the only brilliant gay man of his era... but he may have been the only one who got widely published.
Often, minority authors' works are sidelined into "minority studies" because they "don't reflect the mainstream experience"--which is shaped by those works that are pushed at everyone. It's an elegant vicious circle, and the only way out of it is to decide that it's okay to drop the need for shared cultural tropes in favor of diversity.