Friday, January 13, 2017

Reading a Book for 6th Graders

Reading a book for 6th graders. Published in 1916. This is in the foreword:

It may perhaps be granted that this general movement towards a more careful study of complete classics is for child's literary welfare. It can not be questioned, however, that many school systems have gone too far in this direction. The expanding life of a child as a citizen of the world demands acquaintance with a considerable portion of the world's best thought as expressed in literature. If literature is to stimulate the child's intellect, kindle his imagination, arouse generous enthusiasms, and develop appreciation of the good and the beautiful, it must not be doled out in workhouse portions like the mush devoted to the sustenance of the youthful Oliver Twist. At the inexhaustible fountain of English literature the child should be led to drink deep. Any plan is at fault that does not develop in him an ever-growing taste for good things to read. It may well be questioned whether limiting the work in literature in the three upper grades to five or six classics a year does not check the natural desire to read. The microscopic study of details, when once the central unity of a production is clearly grasped, is for the grammar-grade child a delusion and a snare. On the other hand, the power to turn on the white light of examination to clear up doubtful meanings and to grasp an author's central purpose should be developed in every child. Such power can come only from a careful study of masterpieces worthy of the child's best efforts; but to insist upon constant in tensity is to prevent a perfect entrance into that delightful realm of fact and fancy which every child must approach on tiptoe. To insist that he have a firm ground of understanding at every step is a stupendous folly. It is to forget that the child is straining manward--that the half-perceived truths and beauties of today will be among tomorrow's clearest visions.

Learned the word "manward" here: towards humankind, directed toward humankind.

I'm not sure how I feel about this kind of formal writing. It goes against what I've learned about good writing: clear, simple, direct, active voice. But I can't help thinking that the desire for simple and clear is a byproduct of both an increasing informality with written word and an understandable desire for teachers to not be subjected to the unskilled and painfully clumsy attempts of literary novices to craft artful, flowing prose and dropping as many ten-dollar words as they think they need to get an A. People didn't even write in the vernacular until relatively recently. In ye olde times in English-speaking countries, people wrote in either Latin or French even though they spoke in English. Now, with cell phones, texting, instant messages, and email, writing is far less formal. It's conversational. It's short bursts. It's optimized for speed, clarity, and it better have bullet points and punchy, summarizing headers over every paragraph because no one has the attention span of more than 4 minutes so no one will be reading your wall-of-text, Dickinson. Just give me the headlines so I can feel smart.

(I discovered this book referenced in this video: THE STRUGGLE FOR STUPIDITY.)

Maybe the more formal literary style is more enjoyable. It seems hard to get into and I don't see too many books I can relate to. Could be new ground. I'll probably have to go it old school -- away from my laptop and cell phone. I'll probably have to engage my imagination more and won't be able to multi-task like I do with audio books. I wonder if it'll be worth it.