Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Diane Ravitch on Literature

I've been slowly making my way through Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn by Diane Ravitch for many months. It's important, worthwhile, eye-opening and even good for the occasional laugh (certainly many gasps of astonishment). But this paragraph is simply delightful to read, particularly coming from a modern day teacher and thinker...

I began this quest with a strong belief that schools are supposed to lay a foundation for love of literature by exposing children incrementally, based on age appropriateness, to the best writings of our common language and, to the extent possible, to the best writings from other cultures. There are so many superb novels, short stories, poems, plays, and essays to choose from that it is impossible for any student to read them all. But this fact makes it all the more important that teachers make the effort to identify the writers and works that will broaden their students' horizons beyond their own immediate circumstances and reveal to them a world of meanings far beyond their own experiences. Great literature is "relevant" not because it echoes the students' race, gender, or social circumstances, but because it speaks directly to the reader across times and cultures. A child who is suffering because of a death in the family is likely to gain more comfort from reading a poem by John Donne or Ben Jonson or Gerard Manley Hopkins than from reading banal teen fiction about a death in the family.

3 comments:

clairity said...

I read this one too and blogged on it (though I don't know if it's recovered or not). Very interesting and a really sad read. Wonder where we go from here with textbooks.

Love2Learn Mom said...

Now that you mention it, I'm sure I read your review, but I forgot about it since.

I'm sure becoming aware of the problem is the first (and perhaps most important) step and it sounds like her book was widely read. Concern over this problem should cross every sort of aisle (political and otherwise) if enough people really cared.

After that, who knows. It does seem that the extreme anti-principle-of-subsidiarity in effect (such as the state of California choosing textbooks in one big lump) is another big part of the problem. More bureaucracy - go figure.

Nancy C. Brown said...

I reviewed this book for Heart & Mind because I thought it was important for homeschooling parents to be aware of what textbooks have to go through (the bias and sensitivity committees) in order to be published these days.

After reading this, I decided that the only textbooks I would purchase were from the Ignatius/Catholic Textbook project people. Everything else I get is either "real books" or my own pieced together curriculum.

I like this quote you took out, and I agree with it. Good literature broadens your horizons, and bad literature is just bad literature.