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Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Read Happy Books; or, Hell, Learn How to Read

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 09/26/07 at 09:36 PM

(Lifted, in its entirety, from elsewhere.)

The folks at Phi Beta Cons are waxing anti-intellectual about Mary Collins’ complaint in The Christian Science Monitor.  According to Collins, her daughter has stopped reading because her school requires her to read novels with "distressing plots [and] sad, even sinister, story lines."  Most interesting to Carol Iannone, however, is Collins’ account of a conversation she had with some of her daughter’s classmates:

The string of searing plot patterns has resulted in some very peculiar unintended consequences. Most of the students I spoke with from my daughter’s middle school claimed that the readings made them feel inadequate because they never "experienced these horrible things."

"It becomes awkward," one student said, "because you’re constantly made to feel spoiled or privileged."

Her co-blogger, David French, picks up the baton and—in a move calculated to prove, definitively, his nub-mindedness—promptly thwacks the first professor he sees:

I enjoyed Carol’s post highlighting how the typical college reading assignment seems designed to make students feel “spoiled or privileged.”  In fact, professorial contempt for “spoiled or privileged” students is nauseatingly common.  Yet this is yet another example of academic blindness.  It is tough to imagine a more “privileged” person than a tenured faculty member at a major university.  Six figure income.  Ten month work year.  Absolute job security in the absence of actual fraud or criminal behavior.  No other profession in America enjoys such benefits.

That Collins and Iannone spoke of middle school reading lists is irrelevant.  The point is to drub academics wherever and whenever you can; in this case, for their contempt for the "spoiled and privileged."  You know that varnish spoiled, privileged children are taught to apply to their elitism in (ahem) finishing schools? 

French forgot to apply it.  He speaks here, openly, for the downtrodden, i.e. the spoiled, privileged children of wealth.  He is nauseated by the contempt in which these spoiled, privileged children are held.  That they behave in spoiled, privileged ways is irrelevant.  That is their culture, see, and these postmodern multiculturalists are hypocrites for shitting on these children’s unearned pretensions. 

They come from a better culture—one with money and power—and these arrogant professors have the nerve to inform them that the world shouldn’t bow to their every wish and whim?  Who do these professors think they are?  Did they go Andover?  Groton, even?  Who are they to spit upon our spoiled children?

To return to my original point—which, to be honest, I’ve yet to even hint at—Collins suggests that these children can be cheered up by reading something chipper like Huck Finn.  Because once Huck and Tom fool Jim into thinking he’s still enslaved, then torture him for a little while in order to satisfy Tom’s love of historical romance—well, those are an absolute hoot.  Guaranteed to cheer up a sallow youth any day. 

For that matter, why not have them read Connecticut Yankee?  It’s finale is clean, wholesome fun for children of all ages.   I mean, The Boss insists that the electrocuted knights be delivered a coup de grace, when he could have left them on the field to die horribly and alone, save for the screams and rattles of their compatriots.

My point, then, is that the canon debate factors into these issues in ways we shouldn’t, but do, ignore.  If Twain wrote Huck Finn today, I guarantee Collins and her ilk would complain about it being taught to their children.  (They do, of course, but for different reasons.)


Comments

I was always taught that conflict is the heart of drama. “distressing plots and sad, even sinister story lines” sounds like a good read to me. I had to make do with the tedium of Ethan Frome but it sounds like these kids are being assigned His Dark Material or just about anything by Dickens. But then, I’m not a privileged, upper class middle schooler being forced to read about those filthy poor people who don’t even have their own nanny. The horror.

By Keith on 09/27/07 at 09:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

. . . six figure income? In English . . . ?? Even at a “major” university?

Maybe past a certain rank, maybe at the, say, five richest private institutions . . . ?

I guess if I had a six figure income I might be able to afford to work only ten months. Then again, in Washington the politicians think $160,000 is deprivation.

Yes, the money and the leisure and the expansive walnut-paneled office are exactly the reasons I am in this gig.

By on 09/27/07 at 03:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

. . . six figure income? In English . . . ?? Even at a “major” university?

Well, there is Walter Benn Michaels who is, by his own admission, pulling down $175K at UI Chicago. Skip Gates probably pulls down more than that, but he’s got all sorts of side action going.

By Bill Benzon on 09/27/07 at 05:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I am teaching some middle schoolers and we have discussed outside reading this week. It is required. Most of them are somewhat privileged. I don’t resent them for it (the same applies to me in a modest way). I want to make them grateful for the life they have (they are Muslims, and mostly the children of immigrants).

My rule, was they ought to do 5,000 pages before the end of the school year for an A—and I would give them double pages for anything challenging or written before 1950 (arbitrary, I know). So, LOTR is 2x, Harry Potter is not.

Yeah, ol’ Dickens is a tad depressing, but for goodness sakes, shouldn’t they soak up at least a little something about life outside of North America or before the 20th Century??? 

I recall that in public school in 6th grade we were assigned 2,500 pages of free reading in the second semester. Do me expectations of my students seem fair/reasonable (I’m a first year teacher w/ no pedagogy training, just liberal arts)??

Any suggestions?

All these complainers in the post seem like total twats. Almost as bad as the parents that loathe The Outsiders because the characters smoke tobacco.

By on 09/27/07 at 06:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill, but Walter’s in administration.  I don’t doubt for a second that those in admin pull down high salaries—but those aren’t the people whose contempt is being lamented here.

By on 09/27/07 at 06:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Tenure?  Priviledged? Six figures? For a good example of what our society values, check out the salary of any college football coach.  In general, a good teacher, in middle school, or college, does not attempt to instill guilt, but “perspective”.  No one’s to blame for their background; it’s how one chooses to live one’s adult life that’s up for judgement.
For more cries unto a bootless heaven, please check out my blog satan with sinus trouble
http://www.swst.blogspot.com
sorry to beg.

By evilyngarnett on 09/29/07 at 03:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s tempting, I know, to be self congratulatory when you read something like Collins’ complaint.  It ends up sounding like cries of ‘how gauche’ though.  There is a grain of truth to her point.  Most of the young adult writers I talk to note the turn in the publishing industry to darker tales for young people, some which reflect a complicated contemporary world, some which reflect the exploitative commercial impulse of the publishing world.  Schools do have a tendency to use english classes as a place to engage ‘issues’-- a kind sociology cum psychology cum social work that stands in for reading works on their merit and testing out ideas of value.

By on 10/01/07 at 09:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I expected that the conservative response would be: buck up. Life is a tragedy. This, after all, is what 200 years of conservative thinking was about.

But that was before the all new Bushconservatism, in which the only acceptable literature, other than the collected radio transcripts of Rush Limbaugh, is A Man in Full.

And these are the smart conservatives? Wow. I think this is a record - whole ideology going brain dead this quickly. Even the Commies, in the thirties, retained some critical faculties. The last lights on the right have, I guess, been extinguished ten or fifteen years ago. Christopher Cauldwell seems like the last survivor. In any case, I do think that conservative as a term should be mothballed in favor of jellobrain. Or would dummy do? The brain dead, the zombies - whatever. At least they have answered one question. Homeschooling obviously doesn’t work - witness the generation that has taken over the national review.

By roger on 10/01/07 at 01:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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