The education bureaucrats also fail to understand that a nation’s literature enhances understanding of its foundational documents, now placed under the “informational texts” category. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” humorously gives insight into changes brought by independence as denizens of the Hudson River Valley go from being subjects to citizens. Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” allows students to follow the adventures and moral dilemmas of a boy rafting down a river with a friend — a slave. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” illuminates struggles for existential freedom.
But rather than restoring literature to something that “delights and instructs,” our education bureaucrats are becoming like the government officer who oversees Mr. Gradgrind. For example, one South Carolina school administrator, defending Common Core, declared, “Kids don’t need to be spending hours and hours reading classical literature.” A representative from the state superintendant’s office claimed that students learn to write better if they study informational texts rather than literature.
Every study I know shows a correlation between reading and writing. “Informational texts” do not offer models of elegant prose, nor do they invite readers.
We are losing not only writing skills, but cultural cohesion. What will the future hold when we have no frame of reference, such as a “Rip Van Winkle” or an “Invisible Man”?
Perhaps Duncan and education bureaucrats have not had the experiences we lovers of literature have had.
Many have never gotten lost in a basketball game, but they understand the value of such sports and the joy of play, whether physical or intellectual. But children will not love basketball if it is a grinding chore. The same with reading and writing.
Mary Grabar is a writer who teaches English at Emory University.