Flannery O’Connor on Teaching Literature

flannery_600I Just got through reading a fabulous essay by Flannery O’Connor on teaching literature entitled “Fiction is a Subject with a History – It Should Be Taught That Way.”  If only Ms. O’Connor could see today’s situation…her words ring powerfully true today just as, I suspect, they did 50 years ago when she wrote them.  Among the choice passages that struck me this evening in her essay are these:

“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 with which 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 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.”

Wow.  1963?  2013?

I need to ruminate on this quite a bit longer, but this paragraph and the entire essay bears thinking long and hard about.  What is it that we are trying to do in educating children – and, for those of us in higher education, educating young adults?  To what degree are we to be guides, and to what degree facilitators of their interests, letting the educational process go wherever they seem to want to wander?  I’m going to revisit this essay on this blog, but after reading through it for the first time, this paragraph kept ringing in my ears… and I still have trouble placing her words in their proper historical context.  They simply seem to be speaking to us about ourselves today.