As for literature, we could probably survive as a culture without high school students being exposed to either Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird. Salinger’s classic is horribly dated, although it still inspires a lot of rebellious teenagers to view the world through the eyes of Holden Caulfield. Harper Lee’s searing view of race relations in pre-civil rights America educates kids about that era far better than any reading of history, but many references are also badly out of date for contemporary readers. As examples of a certain kind of storytelling, they are valuable. But nixing them from the curriculum is not the real issue.
It will always be the case that there will be children who will read these treasures on their own, outside of class. More power to them. And I imagine many home-schooled children and students at parochial schools will still immerse themselves in great literature, asking the same questions and seeking the same answers that students have sought for hundreds of years.
But what does it say to students when public schools downgrade the importance of being exposed to the classics? More prosaically, what does it say about the creators of this new curricula who think it’s alright to abandon our most precious heritage in favor of teaching our kids to be drones — uninspired automatons who are churned out of educational factories equipped with the bare minimum to survive?
If you don’t challenge students to better themselves by acquiring knowledge for the sheer joy of learning, teachers, administration, and those governing bodies responsible for educating the young will be rightly seen as abject failures. Removing most good literature from the classroom cuts off a vital link to the past, and it should be fought by those parents and teachers who think kids should graduate as whole people and not simply potential cogs in in a planned economy.