English was my favorite subject in school, so much so that I can still recite from memory large passages of the books we read, like A Separate Peace:
I went back to Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there 15 years before.
And who doesn’t know this by heart:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
Literature, more than other subject, advances individualism. Writing unleashes the individual. Reading unleashes the mind from conformity. As I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I am free to think, feel, and believe whatever I wish regardless of what some teacher or professor wants me to believe.
Here’s what scholar Karin Sarsenov says of the subject in her paper, The Literature Curriculum in Russia: Cultural Nationalism vs. The Cultural Turn:
Teaching literature in school is by its very nature a tricky endeavor. On the one hand, the canonical works taught remind us of the ultimate transcendence of the individual. The fact that a particular writer is taught in school means that this person’s views, intentions, experiences, feelings, politics and aesthetics have surpassed their contextual situatedness, overcome the forces attempting to marginalize them, and have emerged as the dominant cultural discourse. In this respect, masterpieces represent the ultimate manifestation of individual agency. In the intimate experience of reading, individual agency is also accentuated – reading is a process which cannot be controlled from outside, and in which the inherent hermeneutical openness of art allows for unexpected – and sometimes perhaps even unwelcome – interpretations [emphasis added].
As a tool of individualism, then, literature poses a threat to central control of education and of the mind. So, now, the federal government has begun a purge of literature from primary and secondary education curricula.
From the Telegraph:
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.
How We Got Here
Forty-six states have surrendered control of school curricula to the federal government under the remarkably successful and sweeping “Race to the Top” challenge.
By entering the challenge—with no promising of winning the money—states agreed to replace local school district curricula with federally mandated subjects and standards: the common core state standards. The process took less than two years, and ensures that the federal government will dictate every aspect of a child’s learning forever.
Propaganda Replaces Art
So what will replace Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird? Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council.
Common Core Standards doubles down on the 100-year-old compulsory education ideal of producing conformists—disciplined, unquestioning factory workers. Seth Godin challenged this failed system even before Common Core Standards appeared on the scene:
As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?
As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.
By replacing individualistic fiction like Catcher in the Rye with government propaganda and calling it “literature,” we’re following the Soviet model of reducing humans to mere cogs in the machine of state.
So where’s the liberal outrage at this anti-intellectual policy? Or has the left swallowed whole the statist view that people are mere tools of the central planners?