What is it about the liberal education monolith that so despises our cultural heritage? The bastardization of our history, the assault on values, the trivialization of profound truths that have defined western civilization for 500 years — there is a price to be paid in developing incomplete citizens who ignorant of the arts and unaware of the giants on whose shoulders they are supposed to stand.
Now it is literature under assault, as the Telegraph explains:
American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.
A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.
Books such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by “informational texts” approved by the Common Core State Standards.
Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council.
The new educational standards have the backing of the influential National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and are being part-funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Jamie Highfill, a teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Arkansas, told the Times that the directive was bad for a well-rounded education.
“I’m afraid we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our English classes.
“In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?”
Supporters of the directive argue that it will help pupils to develop the ability to write concisely and factually, which will be more useful in the workplace than a knowledge of Shakespeare.
Just how is it going to help students to develop an ability to write if they have never read the achingly beautiful prose of Melville, the spare but rich dialogue of Hemmingway, the storytelling of Hawthorne? It is impossible to learn how to write well unless you can recognize what is good writing and what is schlock. I guarantee you’re not going to be able to discern what is good art by reading an EPA manual.
Beyond writing skill, there are the timeless ideas and themes in western literature that form the backbone of our civilization. Cultural relativity aside, there is a patrimony to be handed down from generation to generation that defines who we are and where we’ve been, and points the way to where we should be going. You are not going to discover this patrimony in government publications, but in the tangle of the minds of novelists who bring to life with words a time, a place, a circumstance that teaches us more than how to be a good writer or get a job in some government office someday.
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.