This was going to be a regular On this Day in Literary History post, as I have no review ready today but, after looking into the topic I was using, some other things came to light that really made me wonder. So much so that I wanted to share them with you, and maybe make you wonder too. With that said, I’ll start this post as if it were a regular literary history day then move on from there.
On this day in 1951 J. D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye was published. The novel, which was about a troubled 16-year-old named Holden Caulfield, exemplified common feelings of teenage angst and a resistance to growing up, it was also the first appearance of Holden Caulfield.
Book dealers regard a signed copy of the first edition as “one of the most elusive of 20th century books.” The last signed edition for sale, about fifteen years ago, was inscribed by Salinger to Harold Ross of The New Yorker; the first Salinger story that Ross bought and, it is said, was sold for over $50k
Despite being cited as one of the most influential books of the 20th century, it was reported in December 2012 that American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014. Some suggested texts include “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, that thrilling page turner by the EPA “Recommended Levels of Insulation,” and “Invasive Plant Inventory” by California’s Invasive Plant Council, I really can’t see those ‘interesting ‘ pieces of writing getting anywhere near my reviews. So, let’s forget “Catcher in the Rye” (seems to encourage assassins), “The Great Gatsby” (too 1 %y), “Huckleberry Finn” (of course anything written before 1970 must be racist) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (probably a Suzanne Collins rip-off, Mockingjay anyone?). Bring out the wood-chipping manuals! Oh dear, I feel my sarcasm service coming into play in this posting.
This new school curriculum which would affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace, and would be approved by the Common Core State Standards. These new educational standards also have the backing of the influential National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and are being part-funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This brings the question to mind, are they only going to be able to be read through a Microsoft program?
What is the world coming to when we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our school English classes; shouldn’t education be about more than simply ensuring that our offspring can get a job? Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens? Supporters of the directive argue that it will help pupils to develop the ability to write concisely and factually, which will be more useful in the workplace than knowledge of Shakespeare. But what happens when imagination and an ability to think outside the facts is required to achieve a goal; are we going to try to “train” this out of our youth, leaving a flat one-dimensional species that has forgotten how to dream and extend themselves to the impossible?
Surely instead of imposing this on our English Literature classes, it would make more sense to insert these kinds of materials into the relevant disciplines such as Mathematics, Physics, and Biology et al. By trying to make the English class a platform for technical materials the school system is running the risk of turning those who love to read into those who hate reading and, therefore, creating more mindless drones who can only cope with reality if they have a ‘smart’ phone or the internet there to help them. In effect creating a society where we never need to have a dream, or interact with others to achieve anything. After all, the manual tells us we can do it alone and, hopefully (written with sarcasm) without actually having a face to face meaningful conversation with another human being.
Fiction allows us to stretch our imagination, and I know I’ve said this in a previous post somewhere on here, to travel to places we may never visit. It helps the socially inept create bonds with other living human beings that have a shared love of a particular genre. I can hardly see myself calling a friend and saying excitedly (there’s that sarcasm again) ‘Let’s meet up at Starbucks, I need to tell you all about this great read I just finished, it’s called “Recommended Levels of Insulation”; It’s not going to be top of any book club reading list I know of, and never make the best sellers list either.
In a world where it seems the norm to want our young people to become adults before their time, we are now looking at taking away from a lot of them their escape from this pressure to ‘grow up’. Is this the really the future we envision for our species? Which then opens the can of worms and the debate as to why many of the sci-fi books out there have such a bleak outlook for our species future; do the writers of these already know we are on a slippery slope?
Now I must away, my new Haynes Wallace and Gromit: Cracking Contraptions Manual, has just arrived (tongue in cheek).