Thursday, August 17, 2006

Flannery on English Education

I continue to dabble in the writings of Flannery O'Connor this summer, and last night during my son's soccer game (he wasn't on the field at the time) I read a fabulous essay on a subject near and dear to my heart. Here is a gem of a quote from Flannery O'Connor:

"Ours is the first age in history which has asked the child what he would tolerate learning, but that is a part of the problem I am not equipped to deal. The devil of Educationism that possesses us is the kind that can be cast out only by prayer and fasting. No one has yet come along strong enough to do it. In other ages the attention of children was held by Homer and Virgil, among others, but by the reverse evolutionary process, that is no longer possible; our children are too stupid now to enter the past imaginatively. No one asks the student if algebra pleases him or if he finds it satisfactory that some French verbs are irregular, but if he prefers Hersey to Hawthorne, his taste must prevail.

I would like to put forward a proposition, repugnant to most English teachers, that fiction, if it is going to be taught in the high schools, should be taught as a subject and as a subject with a history. The total effect of a novel depends not only on its innate impact, but upon the experience, literary and otherwise, with which it is approached. No child needs to be assigned Hersey or Steinbeck until he is familiar with a certain amount of the best work of Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, the early James and Crane, and he does not need to be assigned these until he has been introduced to some of the better English novelists of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The fact that these works do not present him with the realities of his own time is all to the good. He is surrounded by the realities of his own time and he has no perspective whatever to view them..."

O'Connor, Flannery. Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works. "Fiction is a Subject with a History" Library of America: NY, 1988.


Ian said...

Man, what an absolutely amazing quote! Thanks for posting.
I added you to my blogroll btw. :)

Bilbo Baggins said...

Thanks, Ian. I was pretty excited when I stumbled upon it during my son's soccer game. When I read it, I think some of the parents sitting next to me thought our team just scored.