Why Are Schools Abandoning Literature?

I recently spent time with a class of fourteen-year-olds, talking about words, specifically words strung together to form speech. I started out by asking them whether they thought words could make people act in a particular way. “Can words lead to action?” I asked. There was some thinking and mulling over.

We spent several weeks discussing, reading, and studying many of the greatest (and infamous) words read aloud: the Gettysburg Address, Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Germany, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, a host of Winston Churchill speeches from World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speeches, and some of the best contemporary commencement addresses given in the US in recent years. Many of these speeches were written in reaction to events, and most of them called on their respective audiences to do something (be calm, have fortitude, ensure victory, reach for success). Whether or not the words we read actually shaped (or changed) history can be debated, but the more important question is whether words can shape conscience, which affects not just one action but a lifetime of actions. This is something teachers have long relied on the power of literature to do.

In the late 1890s, American high school English curricula regularly listed works by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alexander Pope, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, William Shakespeare, Daniel Webster, John Milton, William Bryant and Geoffrey Chaucer. Such authors were not just for those headed off to college. Students destined for workrooms—such as those who attended a manual training high school in Denver, Colorado—were still tasked with a similar English curriculum.

And yet, as an educator recently told me, referring to new standards that stress the importance of nonfiction and autobiography, “The trend right now is a movement away from literature,” and it begins in middle school. Imagine your children gradually being fed a leaner and leaner diet of literature beginning in sixth grade. They are done with Beverly Clearly and Ramona. They devoured The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, then maybe they plowed through a few Kate DiCamillo books, ticked through Roald Dahl and topped it off with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Layer on a handful of modern literary choices or a Newbery Award winner or two and it’s off to high school. What happens to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Odyssey and The Iliad, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Call of the Wild, and (at least) a hundred others?

There are, however, forces opposed to this movement, especially the move away from exposing kids to challenging literature. Writer David Denby spent time at three high schools (two in New York, one in Connecticut), where teachers are trying to figure out how to successfully (continue to) teach challenging literature to the current generation. The teachers describe reaching today’s teens with literature as a tough assignment. As Denby, who spent time studying alongside classes of tenth and eleventh graders, says in his new book, Lit Up:

When they were very young, teens may have read Harry Potter and later they may have read dystopian and science fiction novels, vampire romance, graphic novels (some very good), young adult fiction (ditto), convulsively exciting street lit. By the time they are fifteen or sixteen, however, reading anything more demanding and time consuming threatens to cut off their smartphone sense of being in touch with everyone and everything at once. . . As they get older, many don’t see why reading seriously should be important at all.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Andrew Simmons, a teacher of 10th and 11th grade English, notes that teenagers today, who are “inundated with video games, movies, and memes” can “often seem hard to shake up” with literature. He argues for more focus on students’ emotional responses to literature:

Characters are fictitious abstractions, and, without actors to bring them to life and makeup and digital tricks to make the drama feel real, students may strictly do the analytical work teachers expect without the interference of a significant emotional response.

“Othello allows my class to review high-school courtship patterns and the insecurities on which they thrive,” Simmons says. “There’s a pretty clear line to draw between Lord of the Flies and the boorish pack mentality of teenage boys.”

If schools back off from literature, they back off from philosophy; they remove the opportunity for students to be lit up (as Denby titled his book) by the ideas of life. “If you don’t read books, and if you don’t get consumed by the physical and moral life of men and women in fiction and history, too many facets of yourself may never come into being,” Denby writes. “That kind of reading is a special good.”

In a single academic year, the 10th grade English class at Manhattan’s Beacon School, where Denby visited, read Rousseau, Falkner, Hesse, Frankel, and Hawthorne. The point of reading these books was not just to cross another name off their author bucket lists. Denby watched the students wrestle with these books to consider “the problem of authority,” the individual and his or her relationship to society, sin and judgment, the challenges of modernity and its technologies, and so much more. As Denby’s book shows, and as our best teachers know, literature isn’t merely a school requirement or a list of recommended books. Great literature teaches us how to live better lives. And those are lessons we carry with us long after we’ve left school.

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  • Mack

    The writer speaks of schools as if they were autonomous, self-governing entities. Any school, public or private, is governed by an elected school board, which in turn must follow a confusing and often contradictory catalogue of federal, state, and local mandates, edicts, laws, and regulations. Any school is what The People (bless them) constructs. And, by the way, does the writer vote in her local school board elections?

    • Strange as this may sound, I spent a few minutes the other day trying to figure out who this author is. Based on what I found, I suspect she does.

      Your larger point, however, is excellent. A couple of years ago I looked at then summer reading list for a public high school in a nearby city– nothing written before 1990. Pathetic.

      • Why are books written before 1990 inherently worse than those written after?

        When I was a kid, I HATED studying literature because it was boring, archaic and written using a vocabulary I had to memorize and never use again. Shakespeare was an author I really hated because I knew I would never use any of those archaic words again as long as I lived. I am absolutely terrible at memorization of any kind, so this type of study was particularly hard on me.

        I would think it would be better studying books that described contemporary life that students could relate to better as part of their own lives.

        Now, I think Common Core is designed to sap all life out of reading, so that doesn’t have my support, either. But I still ask, why deal with ancient writers and worlds students have no clue about? What is wrong with contemporary authors?

        • Celebrim

          I don’t think it is a matter of stuff post 1990 being inherently worse than stuff before 1990, as it is that if you are just looking at the last 25 years of English literature you are ignoring the quite prolific prior 250 years of English literature. And what you can never get from just reading the last 25 years of what’s hot is perspective.

          There is nothing wrong with contemporary authors, but students need to be asked to deal with ancient authors and worlds precisely because they have no clue about them. Dealing with things you’ve never encountered before is a very big part of having a real education.

          • It seems like a major lack of imagination to not think the contemporary world has ample supplies of things people are clueless about – and that it would be much more useful for them to gain a clue by studying.

            I think we study ancient literature simply because we have always done it. I’d like to see worthwhile change.

            I will admit, though, that the idea of deconstruction and the impersonal common core standards seem like two different ways to leech all life out of the world, so I don’t think much of the way the contemporary world teaches, either.

            I think our students deserve better.

            I like the idea of the free school like Sudbury Valley, but I also think it’s not for everyone … I’m sure I would have thrived at such a school, but I know many others would not.

          • vepxistqaosani

            You could not be more wrong. If you haven’t read and understood Homer and Herodotus and Thucydides, then you can’t understand anything about history, warfare, or foreign policy. If you haven’t read Plato, then you are innocent of philosophy. If you haven’t read Shakespeare and Austen and Dickens and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Hugo, then you will labor through your life under the delusion that your feelings and fancies are unique, and uniquely deserving of others’ solicitude.

          • So if I read a book about, say, World War II, Vietnam or our wars against ISIS and Al Queda, and absorb the material presented, I don’t understand anything about history? I would think I’d understand more about how wars are fought today instead of thousands of years ago.

            That sounds, bluntly, absurd.

            Why are unreadable ancient authors superior to current authors who use contemporary language? You’ve made an assertion, which many agree with, kindly tell me why it is true.

          • Winefred

            As a parent of two well-read US military officers, let me note for you that they are compelled to read Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and everybody in between so that they understand how men think and respond in battle, and how strategies and tactics play for or against each other, and what principles of warfare lead to victory regardless of whether you use cross-bows or SAMs. Nothing written by Wellington, Churchill, Rommel, or Schwarzkopf makes any sense without their knowledge of the ancients.

          • Celebrim

            Let me go a bit further. Consider a modern topic like the very inappropriately named: “War on Terror”. It’s not possible to actually understand the “War on Terror” and what is really going on without understanding a 1500 year sweep of history that includes things like the Five Rightly Guided Caliphs, the War of Austrian Succession, the rise of Salafism, World War I, and the Armenian genocide. And this is the reason I think the modern average American can’t come to grips with what is actually going on in this war, and so wrestles with the meaning of completely dumb terms like “The War on Terror”. Lacking context, you get stupidity.

          • SuzanneN

            Unreadable to whom, moron?

          • MarkM

            Because the conflicts and what happened in WW II, Vietnam and more recent non-symmetrical conflicts are not the start of the story. Much of World War II (both before and after) can only be explained in terms of the experiences of World War I. America’s struggle to support the Southern Vietnamese government should be viewed in the context of the prior French attempts to pacify Vietman and the larger cold war context. If you want to understand ISIS and Al Queda, your grasp of history should reach back to the times of Muhammad and the subsequent rise of the Caliphate(s).

            The issue is not just contemporary language. At least part of the issue is that we all don’t have enough time to put these various events into a truly historical perspective. Looking back at Ancient Greece and Rome still has lessons for us today – you may not like to hear it, but they do. Have you heard the saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” from George Santayana?

          • Johnathan Swift Jr.

            Basic truths about mankind are of course timeless and the way that we understand that something is a basic truth is by learning that people were struggling with similar issues in the Classical Era.

            Because historical literacy matters, because it illuminates the war in Afghanistan if we know that Alexander the Great foundered there, that the British fought not one, but two Afghan Wars in the 19th century.

            Shakespeare was the first writer to create fully human characters with all their characteristics, from the sublime to the ridiculous. He should be the foundation on which literature courses are built upon. A hundred years ago, every college student would have had a good knowledge of Shakespeare’s works, today he seems to be rarely required reading.

            In my own era, a few young officers were reading Bernard Fall’s “Street without Joy,” during Vietnam.

            In recent years, I meet one leftist after another who wants to explain to me that 9/11 was all America’s fault, that it was “blowback,” none of whom have even heard of the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s visionary and philosopher who chose the United States as Islam’s enemy in the 1940s, when he was educated in the United States at taxpayer expense. After he was executed by Nassar, his brother fled to Saudi Arabia, where he influenced Osama bin Laden in the 1970s and exposed thousands of young Saudi’s to his brother’s writings. Current events are always illuminated by past history.

          • vepxistqaosani

            There was an SF short story years and years ago — MS Fnd in a Libry, by the socialist librarian Hal Draper (http://folk.uio.no/knuthe/msfndinalbry.html) — the burden of which was that civilization fell because we lost the collection of primary sources in the vast universal web. All other knowledge depended on those first things, and without them, it was impossible to go on.

            Regarding WWII — every general officer would be familiar with military history and theory from Thucydides through Clausewitz, Maginot, and Rommel. (I have some of my grandfather’s military history books from his years at West Point as student and professor. They’re quite daunting by today’s etiolated standards. But still readable.)

            You can certainly gain an understanding of what happened in WWII by reading popular, dumbed-down, modern histories of that war; you will not understand why decisions were made the way they were and you will therefore be unable — rather like our current crop of politicians and diplomats — to extract and apply lessons from that conflagration.

          • Fred

            Vepxistqaosani below is absolutely right. There are, in fact, practical advantages to studying literature. I would add to his list gaining a sensitivity to language that can make you more persuasive in all aspects of your life, personal and professional; and the ability to write clearly and convincingly. But all that said, I didn’t study literature because it gave me practical advantages (even though it did; I make good money using the talents I honed in my studies). I studied it because I loved it, because it gave my life and my thought depth and beauty, and because there is more to life than collecting as much stuff as possible before you die.

          • It seems like a major lack of imagination to not think the contemporary world has ample supplies of things people are clueless about – and that it would be much more useful for them to gain a clue by studying.

            I think we study ancient literature simply because we have always done it. I’d like to see worthwhile change.

            I will admit, though, that the idea of deconstruction and the impersonal common core standards seem like two different ways to leech all life out of the world, so I don’t think much of the way the contemporary world teaches, either.

            I think our students deserve better.

            I like the idea of the free school like Sudbury Valley, but I also think it’s not for everyone … I’m sure I would have thrived at such a school, but I know many others would not.

          • SuzanneN

            Why does anyone need the context of a classroom and a teacher to discuss contemporary fiction? That’s like needing the context of a classroom and a teacher to discuss contemporary movies or TV–self-indulgent and silly, in other words.

            I don’t say it might not be illuminating to have a well-informed discussion that includes contemporary fiction, even contemporary pop culture; but the “knowledge” needed to understand such things is so widely available to us, that it’s silly to waste the time of actual college or high school on them.

            It’s harder to have all the cultural knowledge that underlies the classic works of the past, principally the Bible and Greco-Roman literature, without engaging in a project of directed, guided reading. Spend your time on that, and then you have the background to understand great writers for yourself.

        • hyphenatedamerican

          Books before 1990 passed the test of time. Better yet, books before 1950.

        • hyphenatedamerican

          Books before 1990 passed the test of time. Better yet, books before 1950.

          • SuzanneN

            Also, somewhere after 1960 or so, someone (or a bunch of someones) decided that modern kids needed simple, zippy, powerful, punchy books that didn’t have a lot of boring, detailed narrative parts; just lots of zingy dialogue. Like real people talking! Exciting, you know.

            And it turns out, that if you don’t teach yourself to read real fiction, not stuff written to sell popularly, at a young age–maybe you realize that you didn’t quite understand that long paragraph with the description of how Pa Ingalls built the well, so you should re-read it and see if you can understand it better the second time–you run the risk of not learning how to read the ‘harder stuff’ for comprehension. You’ll always be looking for the entertaining, staying-on-the-surface kind of book, that flatters you (as a child) into thinking / believing that you do actually know how to read.

            What a shame that is! How will you ever develop the skills needed to read older literature (like Jane Austen or something) that still yields up its treasures to those that have learned how to read, not just skim the surface?

        • vepxistqaosani

          Because books written after 1990 haven’t been winnowed by Time (the personification, not the magazine). A book published before 1966 and still in print is much more likely to be worthwhile than a book written in 2016.

          Literature, more or less by definition, is that which speaks across generations — and waiting two generations before giving a book that label is a good heuristic.

          Or it used to be … there is, admittedly, a lot of non-literary work from the first half of the 20th century still in print: Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, Edgar Rice Burroughs, et al. But the ability to spin a gripping yarn is also to be admired. I’m fond myself — or was, when I was a lad — of Rafael Sabatini and Thorne Smith, who were best-sellers in their day and now forgotten. Even fans of old movies (and their books were made into quite a few: Captain Blood and Topper, for instance) probably don’t know their names.

          I do wonder what the younguns make of those writers, though. Christie survives mainly through PBS adaptations, but the others must (surely!) suffer from their old-fashioned concerns with linear narrative and straightforward prose — and, of course, their antiquated vocabulary. And then there are the race-class-gender issues so beloved of our current crop of academics, who have somehow lost the ability to enjoy literature, so instead use it as (yet another) tool for political indoctrination.

          • tsol

            Thorne Smith is a forgotten genius.

        • Fred

          If you hated literature, chances are you had bad, ineffective literature teachers (Of course, it’s also possible you’re a philistine, but I’m trying to be charitable). If you hate Shakespeare, have you ever tried watching it performed? Sometimes that helps clarify what the complexity of the language can obscure. Also, if you stick with it and have someone available who can guide you through the difficult parts, Shakespeare does get easier to read, and the rewards are truly astounding. I have performed Shakespeare as well as read him, and it’s an actual high to bring those complex characters to life and have that gorgeous language and its emotional resonance coming from your mouth. There is truly nothing like it. And you should bear a lot of anger toward those teachers who impoverished your life and intellect like that.

          • What I really wanted to do was learn creative writing and do my own stuff instead of endlessly reading what other people were doing. I think my upset was as much about not having that opportunity and having to analyze literature I had no interest in.

            But I really appreciate your passion and viewpoint. It’s certainly possible that with better teachers I could have more interest in the author and his subject matter.

          • Winefred

            Nobody who doesn’t enjoy reading, especially the classics, ever becomes a good writer. It is partly about command of language and possessing a vocabulary that enables you to say what you mean. But it is also, even more, about characters. They are the heart and soul of writing, and even for the person who never goes on to write in the literary mode, reading the characters of the great works of literature gives the reader something in which modern society is clearly lacking: empathy — insight into the intellectual, spiritual, psychological workings of fully fleshed out persons who are unlike those we encounter in our daily lives. There are many reasons why we find the world of higher education one in which students choose, and insist upon, a safe path through life where they never encounter anything upsetting, challenging, disagreeable, alien to themselves — but I would posit that one major factor in their desire for a soft cocoon is that no one has ever presented them with the strange and difficult lives conjured up by Edith Wharton, The Brontes, Dickens, Poe, Hawthorne, James, Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, Dumas, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Chekhov. Or the higher madness of Moliere, Fielding, Wilde, Coward, Feydeau. Or the authors who comprehended every genre in the richest language ever compounded from all the others, Chaucer and Shakespeare. When your education skirts these altogether, or leads the student to examine them in no greater depth than a “personal response”, we are well on the road to producing brittle, ill-tempered, hypersensitive internet trolls instead of thinkers and partipants in the human condition.

          • SuzanneN

            Yes–the sort of student who starts yelling about the need for “trigger warnings,” because God forbid that college / high school should be challenging at all (!), or who starts whining that he’s reading about people who aren’t enough like him to bother with.

          • Fred

            I get that. Studying other people’s writing when you want to do your own can seem like being a runner constantly running laps but never entering a race. That said, there really is no better way to learn the craft of writing than analyzing great literature. As my favorite poet William Butler Yeats put it, “Nor is there singing school but studying monuments of its own magnificence.”

        • Celebrim

          Well, part of the issue is that for most of Western History, educated people were having a conversation between each other or within the texts of their works that assumed a familiarity with prior great works and that their listeners or readers were conversant in the issues that those works raised and could understand allusions and references to them. Another issue is that contemporary works in a particular subject are often not what they seem. For example, there are a great many books you could read that pertain to the Second Gulf War/Iraq War which bill themselves as history, and to a person without a formal education in history might strike someone as history, but which are actually not really history books – or at least, not good ones. You say that you want to understand how wars are fought today. Well, to do that, you’d have to understand at the very least the men fighting those wars. And the men fighting those wars understand those wars in terms of their required reading lists at West Point and other academies. And those required reading lists, while they don’t end with those “ancient unreadable authors” do begin there and build a foundation off them. Supposing you could understand how the US fights wars without understanding at least at the Cliff Notes level Clausewitz or Mahan is seriously misguided. And if you read a really influential modern writer, like say Martin Van Creveld, you are going to find that his books are part of that ongoing conversation, with titles like: “Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton” He doesn’t attempt to address a topic by looking at just 25 years of war fighting history.

          • SuzanneN

            Thanks for this response; the “conversation” among participants in the tradition is precisely what one wants to join.

        • MarkM

          If we have no common culture, then when I say you’re creating a Catch-22, a number of people will have to go google that reference or simply miss it. I would give decent odds that if you’re reading this, you know at least 50% of the following quotes (and may even be able to say where they came from) without help from google:

          “Something wicked this way comes.”
          “Out, damned spot.”
          “Fear is the mind killer.” (Ok – that one is less well known, I admit.)
          “The Gods of the Copybook Headings return.” (Slight misquote, admittedly)
          “Big Brother is watching you.” (And no, this is not from a manual.)
          “It was greek to me.”
          “It was the best of times, the worst of times.”
          “The truth will out.”
          “Now is the winter of our discontent.”
          “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

          Our common language is poorer when the literature behind these sayings is not transmitted to the next generation. Even some of our more common sayings from the movies pre-date 1990 …. even something as simple as “Do or do not. There is no try.” (which, of course, drew on the literature before it as well).

        • richard40

          One big factor that makes the classics classic, and worth studying, is that with the passage of time only the best is remembered. So when you study classics, you are studying the best 30% of the work from that period. If you just study contemporary works, you dont get that filtering that time tends to give, so you may be studying faddish but popular garbage, just as well as the 30% of the good stuff.

  • Mack

    And of course that should read “what The People…construct.”

  • InklingBooks

    Unfortunatly, this article is mistitled. It’s not about “why are schools abandoning literature?” It’s about what a few people and schools are doing to counter that trend. That’s commendable, but without the why, it’s hard to make sense of their response.

    My sense it that the problem lies with Common Core and the fact that much of its funding came from those who think schools, even in the early grades, have no more purpose than creating future worker bees. Think Bill Gates, one of the major funders, along with politicians who think that someone who has made a heck of a lot of money knows something about topics other than making a lot of money.

    The “new standards that stress the importance of nonfiction and autobiography” fit with that mindset. Nonfiction is worker-bee training. Contemporary autobiographies are probably the closest to genuine literature that these billionaire geeks and self-important politicians ever read. Narcissistic people are shaping what schools teach, which is, in turn, turning out increasing narcissistic graduates who lack the exposure to literature that would help them understand the feelings of others.

    Keep in mind that for all our technology the current generation of students is perhaps the most culturally and historically narrow in our nation’s history. Devoting enormous amounts of their time to celebrity news and texting friends, unlike past generations they’re not reading on their own broadening literature such as Tom Sawyer or Anne of Green Gables.

    When I was growing up in the 1950s, there were so few distractions, of necessity we read great books that enlarged our emotional world. We did not need schools to force such books on us and, when we studied similar books in schools, our personal reading made us learn all the more. That is no longer true.

    Common Core, with its emphasis on dull, worker bee non-fiction and autobiographical vanity not only isn’t countering these trends, it’s making them far worse.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride (YA fiction based on a bestselling 1879 novel about life in 1870s North Carolina)

    • Fred

      I think you have some very good points here, but I would argue the idea that education is, or should be, only “practical,” only to help people make money and build things, is hardly new. Benjamin Franklin wrote over two centuries ago:

      “Most People cultivate their own Lands or follow some Handicraft or Merchandise very few rich enough to live idly upon their Rents or Incomes, or to pay the high Prices given in Europe for Paintings, Statues, Architecture, and the other Works of Art that are more curious than useful. Hence the natural Geniuses that have arisen in America with such Talents have uniformly quitted that Country for Europe, where they can be more suitably rewarded.

      It is true that Letters and mathematical Knowledge are in Esteem there, but they are at the same time more common than is apprehended, there being already
      existing nine Colleges or Universities, viz. [namely] four in New England and one in each of the Provinces of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, all furnish’d with learned Professors, besides a number of smaller Academies. These educate many of their Youth in the Languages and those Sciences that qualify Men for the Professions of Divinity, Law, or Physic.”

      So that strain of thought has always existed in American culture. It is no coincidence that Pragmatist philosophy originated here. Until a few decades ago, though, there were countervailing tendencies. First the religiosity of a country founded in part by religious refugees, then the rise of Romanticism in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately both those tendencies have become weaker over the past couple of decades and the “practical” and scientism have become ascendant. I don’t know if anything can really be done about it. I hope so.

    • Pete_EE

      I think the problem lies two stages back. Responsible, healthy parents want their kid in STEM subjects because they remain the subjects where one can expect high standards of achievement and a course that will not undermine their values.
      Parents are wary of history and social studies because the educational establishment promotes socialism. Parents are wary of literature because the educational establishment promotes cultural Marxism.

      https://sustainliberty.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/books-overrated-and-improved/
      Why schools should promote subversive literature is a harder case to make.

      • SuzanneN

        Here’s another place that parents can look for excellence to be upheld as an example and a goal, in the public schools: music programs. Your kids don’t have to be future musicians to get a lot out of the school music programs.

        Our daughter had an 8th grade ‘social studies’ teacher who criticized her for writing up a current-events presentation at “too high a level for middle school” (and he lowered her grade for writing prose that was, in his opinion, too sophisticated).

        At the very same time, she had a band director who pushed all the kids to challenge themselves and enter the state-wide, annual judged-solo competition on their instruments, at whatever level was appropriate for each student. In our daughter’s case, this was at ‘level 6′ (the highest level, which she would stay at, as she improved as a player, till the end of high school). Each student was competing against himself/herself; they were also competing with each other for rankings within the band sections. No one was telling her that she was attempting to play music that was “too high a level” for middle school!

        In my opinion, the competition was really good for my daughter. Not being the best made her work harder, till she won recognition. She benefited greatly from having at least one school subject in which her skills and effort were taken seriously, already in middle school. (It was later that the students’ abilities in subjects like math and science were evaluated seriously, too.)

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  • RobertArvanitis

    Keats said there is truth in beauty.
    Literature cannot be good unless it bears truth, unless it comports with universal human understanding of life and the world.
    But such requirements curb political agendas and do not fit with shifting dogma.
    Rather than suffer constraint, or else produce ugly literature, academia drops all art and pursues scientism instead.
    (Examples and use-cases upon request)

  • Yehiel

    So who will teach the teachers. The old saying applies: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.

  • AD_Rtr_OS

    Why are schools abandoning Literature?
    Lit has structure, modern ed has none and can’t stand the competition.

  • pam1500

    Whatever the reason(s) given, a society of people who DON’T wrestle with the ideas of good, evil, sin, judgment, individuals, authority, etc. etc. etc. is much much easier to control.

  • Michael Becker

    Teachers can’t teach literature because they spend too much time in “education” classes and not enough time learning challenging subject matter.

    The “schools of education” at every university in the nation have destroyed K-12 and now they’re working on higher ed.

    • Pete_EE

      I think the destruction of higher ed precedes the destruction of K-12.

      • SuzanneN

        Or the destruction of teacher ed, in any case.

        I recommend E. D. Hirsch’s The Schools We Need (and why we don’t have them), for an excellent analysis of the progressive trend (John Dewey and congeners) in education.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      Here is the reality of it, it’s even worse than people think:

      Professional Educator: Grades, Showing Up On Time Are A Form Of White Supremacy

      A professional education consultant and teacher trainer argued at the White Privilege Conference (WPC) in Philadelphia that great teachers must also be liberal activists, and described in detail her goal for destroying the “white supremacist” nature of modern education.

      Heather Hackman operates Hackman Consulting Group and was formerly a professor of multicultural education at Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University, where she taught future teachers. On Friday, Hackman was given a platform at WPC to deliver a workshop with the lengthy title “No Freedom Unless We Call Out the Wizard Behind The Curtain: Critically Addressing the Corrosive Effects of Whiteness in Teacher Education and Professional Development.” The long title masked a simple thesis on Hackman’s part: Modern education is hopelessly tainted by white supremacy and the “white imperial gaze,” and the solution is to train prospective teachers in college to be activists as well as pedagogues.

      In fact, Hackman argued teachers shouldn’t even bother teaching if they aren’t committed to promoting social justice in school.

      “Education is not about the mere reproduction of knowledge,” Hackman said. “Education is the practice of freedom. And as a result, we have to have [teaching] students becomes activists as well as teachers.”

      Creating educators who are proper activists, Hackman continued, means training them to not only to encourage diversity but also to engage with the systemic oppression she says is pervasive in the entire educational system. In Hackman’s telling, virtually everything associated with being a good student in modern education is actually just a tool of racist white supremacy.

      “The racial narrative of White tends to be like this: Rugged individual, honest, hard-working, disciplined, rigorous, successful,” she said. “And so then, the narrative of U.S. public education: Individual assessments, competition, outcome over process (I care more about your grades than how you’re doing), ‘discipline’ where we care more about your attendance and making sure you’re not tardy than we care about your relationships … proper English must be spoken (which is just assimilation into standard U.S. dialect), hierarchical power structure, and heavy goal orientation.”

      While the traits listed may simply be regarded as positive traits for success in the modern world, Hackman described them as specific cultural traits chosen and emphasized to favor whites to the detriment of non-white groups, who are forced to assimilate white traits such as good discipline and goal orientation or else be left behind.

      Hackman’s natural solution, then, is to train teachers to move away from all these aspects of white privilege in education. She routinely touted the benefits of collective assessments (measuring student learning at the class level instead of determining whether each student knows the material), as well as eliminating all school grades entirely.

      Hackman said when she was a professor, she freely employed these methods with her own students. She once let a student complete an essay assignment as a graphic novel, and allowed students to write in non-standard English or even foreign languages she herself couldn’t read.

      “If I don’t know [your language,] frankly, that’s my issue,” she said. “All I need to know is that you’re thinking about it, I don’t really care how you do it.”

      But Hackman acknowledged in the current white supremacist system, there is some expectation that teachers will know conventional English and possess other basic knowledge. As a result, she admitted modern activist teachers should try to learn those things sufficiently to get a job, but only for the purpose of infiltrating schools to change them from within. “My long game was, get you in, get you tenured, get you in that system and change that system,” she said.

      The need for change is pressing, Hackman said, because the current white supremacist school system is literally killing off non-white Americans.

      “Inside, I am screaming,” she said. She predicted her approach will triumph, and the sinister force she dubbed “SUPER WHITEY” (and compared to the Eye of Sauron) will eventually be swept aside. “Your time has come,” Hackman said. “If I was a white faculty member and unwilling to get with the program, I do not have any business in teacher education … We do see you, Super-Whitey. We’re coming for you.”

    • Deborah D

      Bingo! And, it’s on purpose. Look up Bill Ayers.

    • Carol Wojtyla

      Then there’s the problem that most literature written before 1950 or so is written by white men and we can’t have that. Diversity! ya’ know.

  • Look787

    “Why are schools abandoning literature?” Do I have to spell it out for you, the teachers can’t read

  • A Smith

    Rime, not Rhyme, of the Ancient Mariner. Ironically yours–a Pedantic Internet Dweeb. That went to public schools.

    • comatus

      “Who.” Who went to public schools. “That” is for inanimate objects; dweebs are humanoid. Red-ink margin note.

      I think the double meaning of “rime” is important, so, see me after class.

  • DocScience

    Dumber schools produce dumber students produce dumber teachers produce dumber schools.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      Of course this circle jerk is not a coincidence. Western Civilization didn’t fall, it was pushed.

  • Fred234

    I went to high school in the early 70’s. I had one older English teacher, a Mrs. Garner who I enjoyed immensely even though I was a math head. My next teachers were a new breed, fresh out of college and who I was in constant conflict with. The novels we were assigned I despised and my final quarter I received an F because I refused to read the stuff we were assigned. I read a lot of history, autobiographies, Sci Fi, Wall Street Journal etc. But these new teachers completely turned me off of novels. I tried to read the new novels that my friends raved about but I found them repulsive, boring etc. and barely could finish them. Recently I started watching movies based on the older English novels and I enjoyed them immensely and read the books afterward. Students now are missing out on some fantastic literature that teaches one a lot about lives choices and the consequences. I’m finally enjoying the literature I should have enjoyed 40 years ago.

    • Dogandcat

      My grandson has studied “To Kill a Mocking Bird” for three years! I ask him……”So, how is your English studies going?” He says, “I don’t know, it’s bullshit, so I just daydream.” Good boy!!!!!!!!

      • Fred234

        I liked “To Kill a Mockingbird” actually. But your son is not getting what he should from the book, just this leftist propaganda and that is a shame. Wait until he is forced to read Maya Angelou, your poor son will be in sheer agony!

        • Dogandcat

          Agony, and zombie zone, which might be the purpose.

      • Johnathan Swift Jr.

        Out of the entire history of Western Civilization, from Homer until today, who could have predicted that the greatest work of literature in human history would be “To Kill a Mockingbird?”

        • richard40

          Dont worry, To Kill A Mockingbird will be gone soon as well. Its sexist you know, because Atticus defends a man accused of rape, cross examines the accuser, and proves she is lying. Cant have that, since rape victims always tell the truth, So the feminists will soon kill it.

  • Stanmo42

    One reason is because the schools have a difficult time finding enough PC reading material.

  • 11D20

    Multiculturism is the culprit. If you can not find good literature from Africa or Saudi Arabia etc. then you have to settle for less and less.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      “Who is the Zulu Tolstoy?”
      Saul Bellow

      • 11D20

        Doesn’t exist

  • PubliusII

    Teaching literature lays tachers open to many potential criticisms, all stemming from political correctness. When the personal becomes political, then there is no non-political literature.

    I have no idea how long — or what catastrophes — it will take to detox the current culture.

    • Dogandcat

      Yes, you are right. And, all literature is political. Life is political. I was a teacher, my daughter is a teacher. The mind numbing self censuring she has to do is awful. No one should be offended now, or use their critical thinking skills. Actually, it’s all about getting rid of critical thinking and reality. It’s about creating serfs and rulers.

  • Gunnar Thalweg

    In the mid-90s I went to the graduate school of education — one of the better ones in the country — to get certified in secondary English education. I had teaching experience (overseas), and several years of experience in the professional side of the field — about six years as a professional writer and editor. Plus, I had a graduate degree in English already. I’d not only been a writer, but I’d taught professional writers and trained them.

    You would not believe a complete load of ignorant CARP the graduate program was. We should not teach grammar, we should not teach composition … students should just learn on their own from practicing writing. It was moronic, wrong-headed, and duh–here we are 20 years later and a whole generation of English teachers haven’t taught English to a whole generation of students.

    • tsol

      In college 20 years ago my girlfriend earned a BA in English Lit. She adored the older professors who taught the classics with rigor. By the time she was a senior those Profs were retiring and being replaced by younger professors. She was horrified by what the newcomers were doing to the curriculum, especially the dumbed-down standards for student writing. She said that she witnessed the self-destruction of her discipline.

      • Fred234

        I was in high school 40 years ago and saw the process in its infancy. I loved my older English teacher and hated (yes, that is the best word to use) the newer ones coming in. Today my grammar and understanding of literature is not what it should have been and I’m very frustrated even after 40 years.

      • Johnathan Swift Jr.

        Dude, is that what your SO told you? LOL, OMG, that’s just TMI! Who needs to read? I’m AATK, literature, thats ABD, just really ABU!!! Anyway BSU, ABT2 go,BFF, BSF, BSU, if I need to know something, AASHTA!

  • ursafan40

    Perhaps it’s because too many High School graduates today find “Dick and Jane”, “See Spot Run”, “Go, Dog, Go”, “The Hungry Caterpillar”, or anything by Doctor Seuss beyond their comprehension.

  • Johnathan Swift Jr.

    As a subject, Literature does not lend itself to Multiculturalism, nor radical egalitarianism, two of the major societal and educational trends over the past thirty years. Greatness in the arts is not distributed evenly among the world’s peoples, nor indeed even among the two sexes, at least up to the present time. As the author Saul Bellow once asked, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?”

    In terms of the arts, especially with literature, the problem is one of hierarchy, something that the left is very uncomfortable with. Since the west began to dominate the world, roughly five-hundred years ago and the printing press was developed, virtually all of the great literature was written by caucasian people and white men in particular, which is of course “problematic” to use a current phrase, since white men are the root of all evil and in their years on Mother Gaia, have done nothing apparently that rates any mention on the positive side of the lever, for the left’s account book only has debits, never credits where Western Civilization is concerned.

    The same people who don’t believe that it is possible for there to be any negative traits for minority or 3rd World peoples, think that all white people bear a tremendous blood guilt, so that anything they said, did or wrote needs to be stricken from the record. Because it is virtually impossible to create a meaningful literary curriculum without white authors, I suspect this is one of the reasons

    There is clearly a trend away from literature and America will be an impoverished society because of it, but that seems to be the general idea, to tear anything that is actually worthwhile down and to replace it with something inferior, nihilistic, degrading, obscene or in many cases, with nothing at all. So, Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, Dante, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekov, Austen, Melville, Hawthorne, Twain and the rest, are being given the boot.

    Allowing the digital world to invade education, or perhaps to overrun education is another problem as few students today are able to delay gratification long enough to fully appreciate literature. Reading a book seems slow and meandering, it doesn’t pay off with a boom or a bang every few seconds. And, furthermore the war on facts, learning the actual sequence of world events, which is “rote” learning leaves students without the contextual ability to absorb much of history or literature.

  • Hajjster

    Maybe I’m a heathen, but my 11th graders read Scarlet Letter, Red Badge of Courage, The Sun Also Rises, and As I Lay Dying. The push to get them to read non-fiction to prepare them for “the business world” is everywhere though.

    • Kathleen Doherty

      That’s excellent, though I admit to have reading all those in middle school or earlier. I’m nearly 60 though.

      Having taught in parochial school my 7th graders hadn’t a problem reading both Romeo and Juliet followed by West Side Story. That the movies were promised at the end of both certainly helped. 😉

  • lhfry

    A professor I know is on a committee designing humanities curriculum for engineering students. He was told that the idea that gender is a social construct must be central to any lit selected. There you have it.

    • Rocky_Mountain

      If gender is a social construct than why are there “women’s conferences” etc”

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  • lfstevens

    People of the new gen still love stories. That’s wired deep into the brain. The question is how to present them and how to address the “flaws” they display that rule them out because they are not politically correct.

    • Rocky_Mountain

      “That’s wired deep into the brain.” Really? If so, I think the wires have been cut.

  • Room_237

    I wonder what the effect of the current crop of teen dystopian books will have. My kids (ages 10 and 12) once they finished Harry Potter worked their way through The Hunger Games with the older one going through the Giver series and the younger through The Maze Runner and now starting The Filth Wave. My older son has read “War of the Worlds” (though I am not sure he understood the political and social context of the novel) while my younger son loved The Hobbit.

    • Rocky_Mountain

      Harry Potter and The Hunger Games aren’t literature, IMO. War of the Worlds comes much closer to hitting the mark. Learning about younger people 100-200 years ago (there were books and readers then) we find that there were avid readers of things that most adults wouldn’t read now and probably couldn’t understand. Anyway, how do you divert a couple of generations away from their favorite TV show or Netflix?

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  • Katherine Grimes

    Another reason high schools don’t teach as much literature as I would like is that students are in band or sports every afternoon for hours. When would they read?

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  • Rocky_Mountain

    “Why Are Schools Abandoning Literature?” I can tell you why without even reading the article; because the high tech world wants their brave new world (yes, I have read it) to be totally immersed in tech and literature would take them far, far away from that notwithstanding all the b.s. made about Kindle et al.

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