How Important Is Exposure To Classic Western Literature In Formalised Education? | Page 2 | INFJ Forum

How Important Is Exposure To Classic Western Literature In Formalised Education?

Discussion in 'History, Travel, and Culture' started by Night Owl, Jul 19, 2016.

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  1. Almost essential.

    62.5%
  2. Fairly important.

    12.5%
  3. Take it or leave it.

    18.8%
  4. Not important.

    6.3%
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    In an ugly practical sense: whether we choose to describe it as sophisticated or elitist, there is an influential cultural world out there that includes texts like Shakespeare's. If we don't teach children to engage with texts like that, we are failing to provide them with access to that world... we are perpetuating inequality.
     
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    Hmm, sort of interesting to see my opinions change slightly through this thread. I guess it's good to have opportunities for thinking things through properly :-S
     
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    Night Owl

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    @invisible I've never heard of this book until today whilst watching an episode of Daria, you may already know it: "On Moral Fiction." Daria says: "It's a book from school, on how fiction should do more than just entertain." Reminded me of your comments.
     
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    I'm not against literature for pleasure, I'm just against the idea that pleasure should be the guiding principle in teaching literature as a discipline or as a field of human endeavour.

    I haven't read that book or heard of it before. Is it by Jostein Gaarder? I read "The Solitaire Mystery" and "The Christmas Mystery" a long time ago. I own a copy of "Sophie's World" but have never read it although I have always intended to.

    Daria is awesome <3
     
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    Night Owl

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    Our sentiments are shared. Both on the literature position you espoused, and your view on Daria.

    Wikipedia says it's by John Gardner. Through a quick cross-reference they're different people. I just shared the reference as it touched upon what you said earlier, and reflected a view of yours I agree with and found quite poignant: "...fiction should do more than just entertain" - what that "more" is, well that's another matter, but "more" indeed.
     
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  6. Martinville

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    I like history. Especially the real history of things you are never thought at school. Suddenly you see how things make sense and are somehow connected.
     
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  7. Gaze

    Gaze My word . . . hmm
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    I think not enough is discussed of the historical, socio-economic, cultural or political background or context of a work. I've noticed that literature classes often expect students to read a work of fiction and understand it based on text alone without first providing context for work. It's odd. The text tells all.
     
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  8. Artisan

    Artisan Dares, Dreams, Does

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    In the country I reside in, we never received classes in literature. I mean sure we had to write book reports and stuff, but they could be on books of our choosing and it was mostly to ensure we understood the english language well enough. As for the native language classes, it was just to ensure enlarge our vocabulary. The classics even today are often not that interesting and there are plenty of modern books from whom the same lessons can be learned. In my opinion the importance of any and all literature is to create an opportunity for the mind to expand upon different viewpoints. To think about things that are often not considered.

    I believe that even the more obscure books like the hunger games still point out some essentials to those who have the brains to see and draw parallels. Then of course you got the more right in your face books like Animal Farm by George Orwell. All the lessons learned in those books are found in others as well. So is shakespear any different? the answer is no, it is not different. The same lessons can be learned elsewhere.

    Next you name the bible... It's a book of religion. But is anything in there learned only there ? I distinctly recall some gruesome punishments not of this time in there for women, that you might believe were quoted from the Koran. (considering no1 who believes in the bible actually reads it that well) So what can one take out of religious literature? words of hope? strength? comfort? Perhaps so but once again, there are non-religious books, fictional books that can do the same.

    So if you ask me, how important is classic literature in formalized education?
    I'd say a diversity of literature is important, but it need not be classic literature, and it need not be restricted to western literature.
     
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  9. invisible

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    Little is known about Shakespeare, either from documentation about his life, or from his texts. His work is often described as timeless, not because it suits all times (it is Renaissance), but because his self can't be reliably located in it. This is highly unusual in literature especially in a single artist's body of work of this massive size, so learning about this (and perhaps other high artistic philosophical concepts) is one reason to read Shakespeare. I don't think anyone should be forced to learn about things like this if they don't want to, but the idea that these things can be learned from any other text is inaccurate.
     
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  10. invisible

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    Shakespeare's work is different from the work of any other artist, as any other artist's works are different from his and those of any other. One measurement of the greatness of a work of art is the extent to which it is referred in other texts. Shakespeare's work is such saturation level text that it's impossible to go almost anywhere in literature in englishes without encountering references to it. The more familiar you are with the work of Shakespeare the more you are likely to understand in texts you encounter elsewhere in englishes. The less familiar you are with Shakespeare, the more incomplete your understanding is likely to be. There are many other foundational texts also, Shakespeare is just an example. The more you read, the more you understand. Could I have understood Pasternak as Epic if I hadn't read "The Odyssey"? No I don't think so...

    Maybe people don't want to understand Epic? I personally find it very interesting, but fine, they don't have to understand it if they don't want to. But they definitely aren't going to understand it by reading "The Hunger Games".
     
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    Night Owl

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    I do think there is something unique and valuable to what are considered Western classics. I particularly agree with the great (and self-evident!) point invisible makes:

    In this understanding it would seem unreasonable to simply throw away the old and replace it with the new. Sure, I think this is a valid thing to do in certain instances, but each work of literature is unique, since among many factors that make this so, it arises from a unique context, and a unique human author, and so it's not as if a new work can simply supersede an old work, especially if it is by all means a 'classic'. If a new work is indeed a good work, there is no reason why they cannot sit side by side on the bookshelf, or even side by side in a curriculum.

    In regards to the Bible, I do respect the right people have to not want to read it, or have exposure to it, and to voice opinions that it is unnecessary. But to simply do away with the Bible - all faith aside, and simply as a composite work of literature - and to neglect any form of its study, would severely hamper one's historical Western understanding - simply on the basis of deleting from one's knowledge a body of work which has had tremendous influence over the lives of individuals and societies (for better and worse - based on the reader) especially for over 1500 years of the past 2000. Then there's the Old Testament in and of itself, in part stretching back by conservative (as in, mild/moderate) modern datings, to at least the 8th century B.C. To simply exclude the Bible from Western education would remove a key stone which vital to a wholesome and rounded understanding of Western civilisation/history.. Regardless weather lessons can or cannot be garnered from the Bible alone, or better from other sources, wholly or in part, such as from the Koran, the Bible has occupied a significant place (arguably an unparalleled influence) in the development of Western civilisation and hence its value as a classic and the need for exposure to it in order to approach a more holistic and sound Western education.

    The Western canon is like a treasure chest of cultural heirlooms, which through contact with them one can learn so much; and their thematic concerns which are deeply human are thus universal and perennially relevant. I don't think everyone has to enjoy exposure to such works in the classroom, but I do think it's almost essential and at the least it enriches an education.

    It has also been attested how valuable and important it is for identity formation to have an understanding of one's cultural origins. Thus many initiatives exist for indigenous peoples (i.e. in Australia) who have been culturally displaced and dissociated from their cultural heritage through colonisation, to get in touch with their roots. In some ways this applies to those in Western countries, with the Western classics almost like cultural roots in and of themselves. This doesn't exclude the possibility of exposure to non-Western literature in education (which is also valuable for a rounded education), but perhaps the need for predominately Western literature.

    To end and only repeat myself, I think both the best of the old and the best of the new should have their place in education. I think a heavier emphasis should be placed on the old, but others think the opposite. Yet regardless, to say the least, I think it is a shallow perspective (like the Romans burning the Library of Alexandria) to do away with the classics altogether. The following quote from Monsignor Luigi Giussani relates to the value of Western Classics, quoted in an online journal article "Infinity Goes on Trial" (Lisa Dias, 2008):

     
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    Pretty much!
     
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  13. The_Mysterious_Stranger

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    Why not Eastern Classical Literature? So much western bias...
     
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    Night Owl

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    The question for the thread was: "How important is exposure to Western literature in formalised Western education?"

    The mentioning of one thing, and not another, is not an infallible reflection of discrimination of that which is not mentioned. Hence by not mentioning non-Western literature and non-Western education, this is not a conclusive indicator of a bias against these things. Just as if someone expressing a positive view on one kind of fruit, doesn't conclusively indicate that they are biased against all other forms of fruit.

    If someone asked a question: "How important is it for pregnant women to take care of their health by means of good nutrition?" One could irrationally jump to a conclusion by saying that this question and the POV behind it is biased towards pregnant women and discriminatory against women who are not pregnant, or men for that matter, because nutrition is important for everyone. To leap to such a conclusion is an instance of a hasty generalisation (jumping to a conclusion without considering all the variables) - an informal logical fallacy. Likewise with inferring because Eastern literature was not mentioned, that therefore this reflects a biased against it.

    Statements made by various people in the thread make mention of how valuable non-Western literature (thus including Eastern literature) is and can be for Western education.

    On a separate note, if Chinese people articulated that Chinese literature has an important place, and even a priority to be inculcated in the Chinese education system because it is their own culture, this would seem a fair perspective, and doesn't preclude the inclusion of non-Chinese literature; nor does it indicate a biased towards Chinese culture and a disdain against other cultures. This comparison applies in regards to a view which may see an important place for Western classical literature in Western education.

    This thread isn't against Eastern literature, nor is the question, or the OP. You'll probably find we agree on more things than we disagree about, if not completely agree on a matter like this if we discussed it and listened to each others views for long enough. I have nothing against you, nor do I assume you are biased against Western culture (an ambiguous thing in itself) because of the comment you made. To do so would be to also make a hasty generalisation. The most I can conclusively infer is that you think Eastern literature has an important place in Western education, or education in general, too. And yes, even if quantitatively we may have different views on how this importance would translate into a curriculum, I agree.
     
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  15. Gaze

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    The Bible was a key part of my early education starting in prep and moving into high school, especially the King James version, and helped me understand literature far better than simply reading it blindly, since very little background was provided before having to read literary works in school. Because of exposure to the Bible, I was able to understand concepts such as allegories and parables, similes, etc. I was able to more easily pickup on commonly used literary devices, and understand the nature of ambiguity in literary works, especially in cases where a single and seemingly simple term such as "love" is so often used but greatly varies according to context, and intention of the scripture. Without the Bible, I know I would not have understood literature as well especially Shakespeare nor would I have expanded my literature knowledge by delving into other works by authors such as Keats, Byron, Shelly. I love poetry largely because of what I learned about the creative use of language, wording, to communicate depth of ideas, in scripture. The Bible is it's own canon. I don't think anything compares.

    Instead, there are works of literature that I wish I'd had the chance to be introduced to earlier, only because as you get older and refine your tastes, it's easier to want to throw off the cannon, and just go for what is popular or entertaining, and so it's harder to appreciate classics when there are so many options out there.

    I also see deficiency in modern literature in that writing well does not equal depth or breadth. Some of it is too simplistic and doesn't offer much except reflecting modern or populist views or perceptions, no longer including complexity of characters and showing respect for values, which was a huge aspect of early and classic literature. Rarely, does most of it teach a lesson except to cater to contemporary views, that are popularly accepted. Anything that doesn't fit in with a modern way of thinking is written off as a fad, treated as outdated, or seen as source of extremist belief, all very simplistic perspectives. So, not a fan of the populist nature of modern literature.
     
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    "The historical life of classic works is in fact the uninterrupted process of their social and ideological re-accentuation. Thanks to the intentional potential embedded in them, such works have proved capable of uncovering in each era and against ever new dialogising backgrounds ever newer aspects of meaning; their semantic context literally continues to grow, to further create out of itself." - Bakhtin 1981
     
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    Now that I read this again, it reads as though it is influenced by the 1820 poem by John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn". Intentional? :)
     
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    Night Owl

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    Interesting observation, and nevertheless, a good connection to draw!

    Ah! every classic is a Grecian Urn;
    And beauty has a chance to be known
    By they and those whom the classic do not spurn.
     
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    "Forever piping songs forever new".
     
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  20. Gaze

    Gaze My word . . . hmm
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    This thread reminds me of the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats

    Sailing to Byzantium
    THAT is no country for old men. The young
    In one another's arms, birds in the trees
    - Those dying generations - at their song,
    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
    Caught in that sensual music all neglect
    Monuments of unageing intellect.

    An aged man is but a paltry thing,
    A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
    Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
    For every tatter in its mortal dress,
    Nor is there singing school but studying
    Monuments of its own magnificence;
    And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
    To the holy city of Byzantium.

    O sages standing in God's holy fire
    As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
    Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
    And be the singing-masters of my soul.
    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity.

    Once out of nature I shall never take
    My bodily form from any natural thing,
    But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
    Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
     
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