The loss of great literature in the schools and its replacement with something that is manifestly not great—and is meant in fact to put an end to the very idea of greatness—is no academic matter. As Plato taught us long ago, whoever controls the stories, what today we call “the narrative,” of any society, will inevitably control the society. If we give up our stories, we lose our surest means of teaching young people what is truly good and true and beautiful; we lose the best way of teaching them how to be human. Should we give that up because self-appointed educational experts apparently don’t know how to talk about a great book when it is put in front of them?
Call me old-fashioned, but it seems to me that if you were having a statewide discussion about education you would have to talk about books. Moreover, if the subject you were discussing was what used to be called English (now known by the horrendous acronym ELA), the debate would be over Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and other worthy storytellers and poets whose stories should fill our imaginations and whose words should be etched in our hearts. You would have to offer some indication, some hint, as to what great books are about: love, hope, despair, heroism, victory, in short, human life.
Such a conversation has certainly not taken place over the last few weeks in Indiana, as “Technical Teams” and “Evaluation Teams” have rushed to copy and paste and slightly re-word the Common Core in order to produce the Hoosier state’s “new” college- and career-ready standards. Far from having a conversation about real learning, the only thing the educational establishment in charge of this charade has talked about is “the process” of coming up with new standards.
It has produced a document that would guide schools in the teaching of English yet omits the likes of Shakespeare or Austen or Poe. The reason is that those responsible for re-crafting English standards in Indiana do not really care about great literature; nor do they show much concern for the English language. They certainly have not recognized that the primary innovation of the Common Core English Standards has been to take great literature out of English classes and to replace it with a combination of largely forgettable and often biased “informational texts” and depressing post-modern schlock that no child should ever read.
So they haven’t fixed anything. The school children of Indiana remain vulnerable to the mind-numbing, soul-shrinking, imagination-stifling, story-killing mandates of the Common Core.