SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK. On the great David Brooks debate, can I suggest a compromise? Let kids read what they want. Give them a list of books to choose from and allow them into the classes, or into the groups, that are studying books they'd actually like to read. As it is, Brooks' contention that boys are desperate to read Hemingway but foiled by a feminized education system is a bit silly. Hemingway, for one, would think any male lacking the gumption to stride into Barnes and Nobles and pick up the damn book himself deserved a whupping. Except he would've said so with fewer commas.
As for Mike Tomasky's musings about what kids actually read, a quick glance at college syllabi shouldn't be that hard. My experiences with the educational system are relatively recent, so here's some anecdotal evidence: High school offered lots of literature that I was too young to appreciate. None of it was the estrogen-laden sludge of feelings that Brooks identifies. I don't know why he thinks The Babysitters Club has been incorporated into the canon. I did read Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice, but then so too did I study Steinbeck, Twain and Vonnegut. And yes, I preferred the latter. But what I really preferred doing was not paying attention in class, and so I nearly failed out of English. I blame the feminists, 'cuz they made me lazy by promising wage earning women who could support my sensitive, philophizin' self in fine style.
As for college, since I wasn't an English major, I didn't read much fiction at all. I was at feminization-central: UC Santa Cruz, home of the gender-neutral banana slugs. And I took the most extensive core course at the college: Stevenson's Self and Society. But even there, the menu was light on fiction. I studied some Italo Calvino, Chinua Achebe, and Philip K. Dick, but I mainly read religious texts, and Marx, and Plato. Beyond that, the college, like most colleges, lacked a set curriculum, so I read -- or more accurately, pretended to have read -- whatever I wanted. So sure, Brooks is a bit off base. But Hirshman is too quick to dismiss some underlying truths in his column.
The rigidity of a teenager's education -- be it because of multiculturalism, lack of resources, or whatever else -- is an excellent way to extinguish whatever dim interest in learning they might have once had. And while I don't know that the same-sex education Brooks advocates is a good thing, Peggy Orenstein's book on the educational socialization of young women sort of left me wondering. In any case, I think the problem is Brooks doesn't go far enough. Forget separating by gender, I'm for separating by type. We already have schools for the artistic and the science-oriented, now let's make more of them, and maybe even add some categories. Let teens go to a school that focuses on their interests and is likely to accept their personalities, and I bet you'll see far better outcomes in both sexes.
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