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Composed

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Well, I’m in for a meeting, so I’m a little distracted.  But I do want to point out that I was talking about nonfiction essays and articles yesterday, not about fiction or “creative writing.”

And I agree–the “process” is not entirely stupid, especially for kids who have no ear and never will.  It provides a method to make written work possible.

But I don’t think it does what we all want a composition class to do, because it does not address context, and it does not address thinking. 

With context, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the cause is nearly hopeless.  I’ve been thinking, recently, that we should ditch most versions of the Canon and instead require students to know two areas of the Humanities:  the classical world (Greece and Rome) and (for the US) the American.

It’s not as cut and dried as it seems, of course.  It’s almost impossible to understand the American founding without understanding the English/Scottish Enlightenment, with Milton’s Aereopagetica and Locke’s Second Treatise on Government holding pride of place in the intellectual history that led to the Bill of Rights.

But that could be accommodated, and those two specific areas would present the history of ideas that is distinctly and uniquely Western. 

And yes, of course, in the long run we need to know a broader range of knowledge.  But in the end, we must know these things first, both because they belong to us and make us what we are, and because if we don’t understand them and don’t understand that they are not general in the world at large, we’re going to lose them.

W.H. Auden was once asked what children should learn in school, and he said that it didn’t matter, as long as they all learned the same thing.

I think it does matter, but I get the part about all learning the same thing.  We ought to try to make a curriculum general, so that there is some kind of shared common culture.

Of course, there already is one, made of television and movies and video games, but I was hoping for something longer lasting than that.

As for the thinking–well.  I’m in here for a meeting.

Thinking is about to be on display.

God help me.

Written by janeh

August 12th, 2010 at 9:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Composed'

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  1. OK, but even in non-fiction, there are important distinctions.
    Let me stick with military history. I’ve got Arthur Bernon Tourtellot’s WILLIAM DIAMOND’S DRUM, Thomas J. Fleming’s NOW WE ARE ENEMIES and Victor Brooks’ THE BOSTON CAMPAIGN on my shelves. They’re not only all three “military history,” they all deal with the SAME military history–Tourtellot with Lexington and Concord, Fleming with Bunker Hill, and Brooks with the entire campaign. Brooks is competent–not great–military history. He has good scaled maps, a clear narrative and an order of battle (with casualties.) If you need to understand 1775 as a military event, it will do quite nicely, but it will no doubt be replaced in a generation by something similar s more facts come to light. Fleming and Tourtellot are trying to capture the moment when Americans cease to be provincial Britons and become a nation on their own. Fleming has no order of battle, his maps might charitably be described as serviceable, and the book has already held the field for 50 years. Tourtellot is Flaming without the gifts. He’ll be superceded by someone telling the same story better. An outline might be very helpful to Brooks, but quite possibly not at all useful to Fleming and Tourtellot.

    Concentrating on the history of the Classical world and of the United States sounds feasible if a bit depressing. You’re quite right: a shared knowledge of a period of history improves communication, and these are the two obvious areas. I saw a comment the other day that the US needed more foreign policy analogies. Currently we only have Munich and Vietnam. Perhaps this would increase the stock available.

    Don’t know what to do about the thinking–well, perhaps two things: bear with people who mean well but aren’t very bright, but don’t indulge the mentally lazy.

    robert_piepenbrink

    12 Aug 10 at 4:25 pm

  2. I’m all in favor of a shared common culture. But I think I would include England from the Tudors to the American RRevolution in addition to the Greeks and Romans. That brings in the growth of Parliament, Hobbs, Locke and Shakespeare.

    jd

    13 Aug 10 at 5:29 am

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