Friday, August 13, 2010

The effects of societal evolution

There have been a few times where my younger co-workers have shown that their schooling had a serious lack of cultural enlightenment. By the quizzical looks on the faces of these college graduates, I have begun to wonder if the "finer" bits are being lost in today's schoolrooms. Recently, while gathered around our virtual water cooler, I discovered that they did not read classical books in early grade school. No Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland (they weren't even interested in the movie). They couldn't remember what they read in middle school, whereas I remember Cry, the Beloved Country, To Kill a Mockingbird, and a few plays by Shakespeare.

Today, an older gent in the office stood near the A/R gal and quoted "The King was in the counting house, counting out his money". She gave him a blank stare. I was the only other person in the room who knew another line to the poem.

Okay, so it's not great literature. But it is a poem that teaches children good use of our language. It develops our appreciation for works that come later, and grows our interest in reading. It seems that those little sing-song poems and stories are no longer being learned in schools. Is this why the written word of today is reduced to "k" and "gr8"? By no means do I intend to denounce today's youth. It is the educational system that I am concerned about. I always admired people who have a full vocabulary, who can put down someone without them knowing they've been compared to toe jam. That skill only comes with a rounded education, starting with reading the classical children's fairy tales and poems.

I loved to read when I was young. We had some older books at home that were compilations of children's stories and poems, the good stuff. The ones where you had to figure out some of the words, or look them up in a dictionary. The school librarians encouraged us to read a step up from our level, to keep learning more. I wonder what's going on within those four walls now. Has the computer lab taken floor space where there once were bookshelves? The library was, and still is, a place of wonder for me. A well written book can take you to other worlds, or other times in history.

Upon the advice of a friend, I borrowed Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury from a local library. Immediately upon reading the first chapter, I was caught by the eloquent use of the language. I could imagine the scenes as if I had stepped into them. I could sense nightfall when characters were going home at the end of the day, and hear the chirping bugs in the middle of the hot afternoon. Books like that make me want to read more. And makes me gr8ful that I was encouraged to read good literature a long time ago.

How about you? Did you read Aesop's Fables? Did you go through the looking glass with Alice, or sail with the owl and the pussycat? Or take a trip to Treasure Island?


The Curious Cat said...

There is a lot wrong with education today it would seem...but I'm sure also good. It just makes me wonder sometimes...I enjoyed reading this entry...and I like what you say about eloquent writing. Sometimes I enjoy a book not so much for the story but for the beautiful way it is written and how images are conjured up. I think the Bronte's do this brilliantly and if you want to seek out a modern writer who I think is brilliant - Susan Fletcher...oh! If I could write like that lady...

And if what you say is true about losing our nursery rhymes etc then we'll have to start a movement with our own families and friends to reintroduce them! xxx

lisa said...

Swiss Family Robinson was my favorite..The Swiss Family Robinson was my kids favorite and they would play that out in the back yard..We watched the movie over and over...My kids are readers to this day and my last one is graduating from college this coming May and she is dumbfounded at some of her peers in how much they do NOT know..I have saved all my kids nursery rhyme books...I had them out the other day and my kids were re-reading them and laughing and enjoying the moment saying mom use to read them to us at this such and such a time..I am sure they will be reading them to their kids one day...Lisa

Wendy said...

I think much of the "dumbing down" that Gatto rails against in his essays, speeches and books had already begun by the time I started high school. While we read many of the classic short stories and some poetry, I didn't read many of the longer works of fiction until during and after college.

What's sad is when school librarians and teachers are recommending, almost exclusively, contemporary authors. Perhaps they think today's youth can't relate to yesterday's stories, but I've found the opposite to be true, and that truly great fiction transcends time. Perhaps today's youth do not have to deal with the slavery issue, for example, but Huckleberry Finn will always be a classic, and well worth the read. I think truly great fiction always has something to teach us.

That said, if we really do think it's a problem and that our schools are not teaching what they ought to be teaching, then, *we* - as parents, students, employers, citizens - need to work for change. The schools shouldn't be all about the money. Books are cheap, and it costs very little to sit in a group and read To Kill a Mockingbird and discuss tolerance and justice and bigotry. The irony is that our schools talk about wanting to teach these very traits and go to great lengths to design programs and train instructors, when all that's needed is to read a few books :).

Courtney at Scattering Lupines said...

I read ALL of those.... but mostly on my own time. My mom greatly encouraged quality lit and poetry. I am thankful everyday for it; it sprung into one of my favorite pasttimes and now my career! I am always on the rampage, teaching the kids I work with not only to read but to LOVE reading... reading the beauty of the words, meanings, and human lives in books.

I think I filled my own gaps in much of my poor education, but I am still working to fill gaps in my social studies and civic education.

Have you read any books by E.D. Hirsch? He talks about the lack of rote learning and literacy in today's education system. You might like "The SChools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them" or "Cultural Literacy" by him.

I will have to look into that Bradbury you mentioned.... of course I've read Fahrenheit 451, but never Dandelion Wine.

Have a GR8 weekend ;)

(P.S. you gave me the idea to try and memorize one poem a week until Christmas... wouldn't that be a fun blog challenge?)

Maria said...

It is a sad commentary on the state of our school systems, when kids don't know the basics. That said, I had two children attend public high school (the same one I attended) and one daughter who is attending private high school. The difference between the two is simply incredible. As a matter of fact, there are no similarities. Don't get me wrong, I don't think my boys (public) tried very hard nor "loved" school, but they did not learn an eighth of what my daughter has learned through her sophomore year of high school (private-all girls Catholic). Both boys had major adjustments going to college - MAJOR. But they have persevered. (Probably because I'm such a stickler for education). But I have to say, what my daughter has learned....biology, chemistry, religion, English is just astonishing. She is reading books, that I read in college. So, my opinion is that it depends on the child, it depends on the school, it depends on the parent, it depends on the administration, it depends on so many freaking factors.

By the way, I could say the whole rhyme from the King was in the counting house..........Thank you to my mom who taught it to me before I even started to attend grammar school.......

Fyi - I read all of Aesop's Fables - I still have my kids book in the attic; I've read Treasure Island, I've Read Alice (one of my favorites), but I don't know the Owl and the Pussycat book?? Oh well!!!!

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Gosh, I'm glad that everyone feels so strongly about "good" literature! That you have all had the benefit of quality reading as youths, and you have passed that experience to your children (or will be sharing it with them)! It gives me hope :)

C.C. - I will be borrowing Susan Fletcher books from the library this week. I think they may be appropriate for some of my grandchildren's ages.

Lisa - I'm sure your children will pass this on to their young, since they've seen how their classmates are lacking! Thank you. (And I'm glad they have those happy memories!)

Wendy - I don't have any connections to local schools, but my DIL is very involved in their school. I'll be discussing this with her soon.

Courtney - Thank you for sharing the love of words/books with your students! The gift your mother started is spreading through you :)

Maria - You have the perfect example, but it's too bad it had to happen! The way private schools are geared makes a difference in what our youth get out of the experience. Public schooling leaves more of the responsibility on the parents.

P.S. The Owl and the Pussycat is a "nonsense"-type rhyme by Edward Lear. Link here:

Interestingly, on Mister Rogers Neighborhood, X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat were named for the two main characters :)

I have such an admiration for those with good grammer, puncuation, etc. You will note that I try, but my education didn't cover it all. (I remember diagramming sentences!) I bought a grammer book that I sometimes use as a reference. So please Xcuz any errors you find, thx!