|Foto: Astrid Nydahl|
The study of great literature in our Western culture has aspired to an ethical end through an intellectual means. The improvement of the private human reason for the private person’s own sake, and the incidental improvement of society thereby, was the object of the traditional literary disciplines. Both the aim and the discipline itself are badly neglected in twentieth-century America.
An obsessive vocationalism has done mischief to the higher learning—and, for that matter, to secondary schooling; while the “Progressive” methods injured in other ways the old disciplines. Such slogans as “education for living,” “learning by doing,” “schooling for social reconstruction,” “life adjustment,” and “schools to serve the community” have been employed for a generation as weapons against any genuine training of imagination and reason.
Among the consequences has been the steady reduction of leadership—moral and intellectual talent—in America. The founders of the American Republic learned the first principles of human nature and society from the Bible, Cicero, Plutarch, and Shakespeare. But the present generation of school children is expected, instead, to “learn to live with all the world”—through a rash of scissors-and-paste “projects.”When poetry is replaced by “communications skills,” and narrative history by doctrinaire social generalizations, the whole intricate inheritance of general culture is threatened. There are professors of education who seriously argue that no young person ought to read a book more than fifty years old. The imaginative and rational disciplines, so painfully created over centuries, can be immeasurably injured by a generation or two of neglect and contempt.