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Another reason nobody reads anything worthwhile any more

October 22nd, 2010 Posted in The Artful Life

More evidence of the paucity of literary education in high schools, from professors at the University of Arkansas, and reported by Mark Bauerlein:

“First, the content of the literature and reading curriculum for students in standard or honors courses is no longer traditional or uniform in any consistent way. The most frequently mentioned titles are assigned in only a small percentage of courses, and the low frequencies for almost all the other titles English teachers assign point to an idiosyncratic literature curriculum for most students. Moreover, the works teachers assign do not increase in difficulty from grade 9 to grade 11.”

You can read the full report here. Bauerlein points out one of the troubling practical conclusions for college literature instructors:

“Teachers in first-year college courses may reasonably assume that the 25 students in the class have each undergone a different English training in the previous four years.”

Freshman don’t have, in other words, a common base of literary reference. Even worse, high-school teachers are increasingly relying on discussions of authors’ historical time periods, biographical backgrounds, etc., rather than teaching their students how to analyze a literary text.

One might speculate that the reason for this is that one must be able oneself to understand literature before one can teach others how to do so.