Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School Reads

You know what the title alludes to: Those books that you only read because some High School teacher or English Lit Prof made you.

This came to mind because my youngest is reading To Kill a Mockingbird in class, and that is a classic example of the genre. For Casey, this follows other recent reads of the same ilk: Red Badge of Courage, Of Mice and Men, and Death of a Salesman. Whew!

And why are some writers so prominently represented in School Reads, Hemingway and Steinbeck chief among them? Is it because they wrote classic examples of the writer’s art, or because they were often so tedious and esoteric that nobody would read them otherwise? I’m not castigating, I truly wonder… Look, art critics like art that nobody else does, and it’s the same with music and cinema. Do English wonks like stuff because it’s obtuse and requires specific intellect and insight to appreciate, or because they really think this is the best material available to teach the arts of readin’ and writin’?

I was lucky, in that I went to a private High School in the ‘70’s. My first English teacher there gave us absolutely classic fare; stuff like The Scarlet Letter, Trinity, and A Christmas Carol. The next guy was avant garde and gave us Ragtime, The Mosquito Coast, and Coming into the Country. Senior year was a hippie wanna-be, so we had Gary Snyder and The Lord of the Rings.

And then there’s politics… How many of these are chosen because they’re safe? The likely answer is, probably too many in this day and age. I don’t think a lot of the stuff I read would be allowed in public schools nowadays… It’s especially disheartening when a good classic is tossed because of the New Morality; its real Fahrenheit 451 stuff, I’m afraid. Why is it that decent literature gets axed for supposed impropriety? What are these parents and school boards afraid of? I don’t remember the last time I heard a book getting tossed that deserved to be, but I recall a bunch that I know were ludicrous decisions at best. The Scarlet Letter was a recent victim – The Scarlet letter?! Because it “Was about adultery and was, therefore, espousing values we don’t find material to the teaching of our children…”

Lord, give me strength… These are the same folks who never talk about sex with their kids, who wouldn’t know if their dear little ones are doing dope or not, and who in all likelihood never read Hawthorne in the first place. Furthermore, I’d bet they’re watching porn in the bedroom while wearing rubber horsy masks, but out in public, they’re Pillars of the Community.

So how this kinda crap gets me goin’? And I’m not even liquored up! Prayer in school, no child left behind, core values, educational excellence… I have had it up to here with this new morality and false goodness – I can’t think of a time when we’re constantly wading through hip deep shit like this, can you? It reminds me of the ‘50’s, with the appearance of being cleaner, (But it ain’t). As my wife would say, “It’s just icky,” and indeed it is. My kid’s school is pretty good, and yet there are books and subjects and major teaching aids that have been outlawed there as well, and at the same time, they have practice lock-down drills in preparation for on campus gang fights...

Am I missing something here?

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