Monday, December 13

Comments on my School Proposal

So far in the two comments on my school proposal, (here), both asked about how my ideas fit with the education of our special needs children. Both were concerned by the ability of those children to understand, or read my proposed canonical reading list. I'm going to try to fill out and expand on those points they raised.I told Mrs Pseudo-Polymath (the first commenter) that the canonical reading list, should ideally be quite short. The canonical list used by the Classical Greeks was just two poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, served that purpose for them. This sort of story would be accessible at some level by anyone, indeed only the most severely challenged special needs children can't follow a story at some level. A special needs child need not be able write a cogent essay on "Achilles and the Heroic Ideal", but certainly could "know the story" at a level appropriate to their abilities. Now, Homer's poems aren't part of the American canon, but that's what I'm searching for, An American Homer.

I claim we have no such canon today. There is no story or set of stories we can point to that virtually every American knows. Many of the common "classics" most of us read in childhood, are lost and forgotten as adults. Most adults have a vague idea what is written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But, I think that most adults haven't read either in quite some time. And neither document forms a good model for establishing the ideals for which we strive.

Film and TV have replaced in a large measure for many the shared symbols and experiences of our culture. But while those waters are plentiful, they don't run deep. I sincerely doubt that 3000 years from now, academics will still be pondering and learning from the deeper messages to be learned from Sabrina the Teenage Witch or The Matrix.

One commenter (Mr Conor, web site here) fears selection of the canon and whether it is a form of indoctrination. Well, yes, in some sense it is indoctrination, in the best sense of the word. It should be a cementing of those values we hold dear in our great land. After all, we American's feel we have something special here in our way of living, in our form of government. Those are lessons we should want every American to learn well. Certainly there is some values that the post-modernist ruffians have left which we can share.