07 December 2012

A Nation of Eustaces

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his masters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him for he had none. He didn’t call his father and mother “father” and “mother,” but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and tee-totallers, and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on the beds and the windows were always open.

Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.

–C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Via Vox Day, here is news that classic literature is going to be replaced with EPA manuals in school classrooms. Now, a good portion of what passes for good literature in public schools to be quite frivolous (like Langston Hughes, ee Cummings, William Faulkner, Maya Angelou, Toni Morison, or J.D. Salinger, and other pretentious douche-nozzles), but there is still a good amount of good literature still proscribed in modern public school curricula (like Shakespeare, Christie, Wilde, Chaucer, as well as decent number of good 19th century authors, like Twain or Austen). Thus, while it is definitely a good thing to recognize that a sizable portion of the modern literature curriculum often found in public schools is dreck, I suspect that it will be what’s left of the good literature that’s tossed out to make way for reports on invasive plants.

Perhaps, then, no story more perfectly encapsulates the illness of the modern age. This modern illness is neither physical nor mental, though it may appear as such given the prevalence of obesity and general stupidity that is often the hallmark of public discourse on a variety of subjects ranging from things like economics to sports. The physical and mental illnesses of this modern age—the result of feeding one’s body and mind nothing but junk—both stem from a greater affliction: Denying one's spirituality.

The problem with modern man is that he denies his spiritual essence. One need not be a believer in the Christian God per se, or even of, say, the Baptist or Lutheran perception of said God, but to deny that man is fundamentally a spiritual creature is to deny the foundation of humanity itself. As Lewis might put it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Man longs to live a life beyond the one he experiences in this world; this is his spirit, his essence.

To deny this, then, is to deny humanity. This denial of humanity is perfectly encapsulated in this push to replace good literature with technical manuals. Good literature feeds the spirit and inspires the mind. It provokes thoughts and causes one to quietly contemplate the more fundamental truths of the world. Technical manuals, on the other hand, tell you that you are simply a machine, a flesh-computer. All you need—all you’re good for—is processing information and acting like an obedient cog in the machine of society. And so, it is clear what those who are in charge of the educational system think of children: they are nothing more than blank slates to be filled with data and processing programs. The job of educators, then, is not to feed children’s minds and souls, but to take children and prepare them to be good, compliant parts of the machine. They must eliminate individuality and self-reliance, and instead train children to unthinkingly comply and obey, without question and without reservation.

Children, then, being no longer allowed to think for themselves, will have no need of thought-provoking and soul-affirming works of good literature. They no longer need stories of heroes and villains, of knights and maidens, of kings and usurpers, of love lost and regained. They need only manuals specifying plant growth and technical description of production processes, for the only thing these children are good for is feeding the machine.

Of course, bringing good literature back to the public school curriculum will not solve all the world’s problems in a fortnight. The problem is not simply the absence of good literature, but it’s absence is a symptom of a larger problem. The problem goes by a variety of names—modernism, post-modernism, humanism, progressivism, leftism, collectivism, etc.—but the end result will inevitably be a nation full Eustaces.

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