There is overwhelming evidence that we have fewer and fewer truly literate, to say nothing of truly learned, people today.
Among those who have expressed alarm at the decline of literacy and literary culture is Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University in Fresno. “It’s appalling — it’s really astounding,” he said.
“There is a failure in the core values of education,” he said. “They’re told to go to college in order to get a better job, and that’s OK. But the real task is to produce educated people.”
In a grouchy essay in the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley despairingly wrote. “We have virtually institutionalized ‘minimal competence’ and mediocrity in our schools, our books, even in our thought about education and literature.
what is at stake
is our very capacity to reason
Each word in Webster’s is,
when you think about it,
like an old coin handled by millions;
each, with its various meanings,
is a tissue of experiences
and interpretations of our predecessors
crystallized into word.
is a basic unit of logic or reasoning.
Technique is vision.
Style is sense.
And once you move to larger units of expression — the novel or story — you see beyond all doubt that fiction is not simply about “entertainment” or escapism, but is one of the most important means at our disposal for the ongoing chore of making sense of the world of consciousness and culture.
Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, in his 1970s essay, “Culture Now,” reminded us that,
“No community altogether knows its own heart, and by failing in this knowledge a community deceives itself on the one subject concerning which ignorance means death. The remedy is art itself. Art is the community’s medicine for the worst disease of mind, the corruption of consciousness.”
A new grouchy essay:
Charles Johnson, a National Book Award and MacArthur Fellowship winner, has taught literature at the University of Washington for 31 years. Maybe you can’t rant to the illiterate, yet his rhythmic rant continues