Diane and Michael Ravitch assembled a collection of essays, poems, lyrics, and orations in The English Reader. Scholars argue in various ways that these words inspired revolutions as well as lovers, dreamers, and singers. She previously edited The American Reader: Words that Moved a Nation.
At one time, every educated person, including high school dropouts like my father and Louis L’Amour, knew many of these selections by memory, and others by recognition. These were considered part of our common culture, whether we were born or immigrated here and irrespective of our religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds. I remember, as one of 30 plus students in classes, each of us individually standing up in front our 4th, 5th, and 6th grades reciting some of them. I can still recite some.
I’ve refreshed my memory by going online with my Tablet PC to reread some of these entries.
I’ve heard teachers say and various organizations of educators declare in formal documents that reading such literature is an elitest view, not worth the time for most people. I wonder how many of these people have committed such lit to memory.
I disagree the assertion that such learning is elitest. These pieces remind me of part of my cultural heritage and what I want to leave as part of my legacy to next generations.
Yes, students and faculty in top schools know this literature. Maybe that’s part of defining what constitutes a top school. They achieve beyond minimum teaching and learning expectations.
In any case, that background helps to me to understand nuances of job interviews, serving on juries, voting, government reports, legislation, college applications, lobbying, community organizing, and other public enterprises. Such literature provides a common basis for conversing, negotiating, conducting business, and enjoying ourselves.
I was embarrassed more than once talking with people in top schools (including many from other countries) by references they made to a piece of U.S. or English literature in order to turn a point in a conversation or at a party, and I didn’t recognize or remember the quote.
do students who do not even know that such literature exists have the same life chances as those who can recite them on demand? I don’t think so, not when students from the middle east and Asia have learned them in school. (Hmmm. That’s an interesting precipitating question for an empirical study. I wonder who has conducted that study, and what they found?)
I wonder how many U.S. teachers and students can recite or have read any of the literature in these Ravitch books?