Author: L. Swilley (---.houston.res.rr.com)
Date: 04-12-05 10:34
...This all began for me when I observed my niece yawning through a reading of "The Hobbit" for her English class (7th grade). Reading it, I had to join her in her reaction. There appears to be no analysis of any kind in her course; it consists solely of daily, individual out-loud readings - which may be beneficial at this level for students in schools where the students are lacking in reading ability; but this is not so in her group.
Beyond this, I am at sea to know why this work was selected, there being so many better-made works available. Isn't the purpose of scholarly investigations into literature to expose our students to the best? (Where is Matthew Arnold when we so desperately need him!). There is ample evidence that too many teachers of literature do not recognize this duty; they evidently begin with a conviction that the students are immature, less intelligent (not merely less knowledgeable) than they are, that the material for study must be chosen out of consideration for a supposed lack of intelligence of their students or - worse - what might be "relevant"to them, whereas neither of these convictions is warranted. In teaching the rational appreciation of art; the teacher's duties are a) to treat his students as his colleagues, b) to introduce them to the best that he knows and loves.
There are those who say, "it's just a story," as though stories of any caliber should properly take up precious literature-class time. (There is some excuse for "any story" if the task is learning to read - although, even there, there is no reason to avoid the classics.) Literature classes - those few precious hours - should be given to the examination of the *art* of the work: exactly what it says, and precisely how beautifully it says it. Those few hours should be given to works that the teacher knows, respects and loves as great literature.
And let me rave on a bit more: our determined national ignorance of all the arts as worthy our serious consideration, our treating arts as mere insignificant entertainments, denudes them of their proper effect, ever-deepening considerations of our human nature in its personal, social and political dimensions. Unlike the Europeans, we Americans cannot imagine ourselves as theater audiences reacting with yells at plays we see as destructive of social and poltiical order. That difference is telling: we do not believe art to be an important dimension of our lives.