True Blue writes about his younger cousin, who just graduated from Columbia University. Previously, she attended a high school associated with the University of Chicago (where both of her parents are professors.).
Walking through a bookstore the other day, she asked me if “Dickens is worth reading.” I thought she was joking. Dear readers, I was very wrong. It so happens, through all of high school and college, she had never been assigned Dickens, Chaucer, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Austen, or Melville! The list went on and on. Needless to say, nary a Bible was cracked during all this time either.
Effectively, my cousin was raised without a heritage. Her American/English-speaking birthright was denied her. Though she thought herself in possession of a stellar academic background, she knows worse than nothing about her civilization. I say “worse than nothing” because her head has been crammed full of multi-culti garbage.
It will come as no surprise when I tell you that she read Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in high school.
Personally, I don’t have much useful to say about Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison; I’ve read very little by either of them and with what I’ve read, I was not very impressed. I have, however, heard some of Maya Angelou’s work referenced in very positive terms by people whose literary judgments I respect. I think the point here is not that there’s anything bad about reading contemporary authors, but there’s plenty bad about reading contemporary (and highly trendy) authors to the exclusion of all other literature.
Thomas Bertonneau writes about his experiences teaching literary criticism in college:
Increasingly in our post-literate society, however, few students at the undergraduate level (and surprisingly few even at the master’s-degree level) bring with them much in the way of exposure to literature. Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters of the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as “edgy,” “with it,” or “out-of-the-headlines” portrayals of teenage anxiety…
Since I occasionally teach my department’s Introduction to Literary Criticism, I have had to think the problem through. When I recently received the assignment to teach the course again, I moved “proactively.”
A survey on the first day of class confirmed my expectations. Among them, the sixteen students could produce the titles of only eight novels that they had read (but that not all of them had read). Of the three most-mentioned (five students had read all three) were Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (2008), its sequel Catching Fire (2009), and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005). Four students listed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925); one listed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Four out of the ten coeds, but none of the men, had read Jay Asher’s adolescent female suicide-story Thirteen Reasons Why(2007). A few students had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but none had read Hamlet or The Tempest. No student could name a poem by William Wordsworth, John Keats, or Robert Frost.
Read the whole article to learn how Prof Bertonneau approached the problem of teaching literary criticism to these kids.