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Re: old favorites and sagging canon

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  • William Cloud Hicklin
    Come on-- Catcher in the Rye? Emily Dickinson? Robert Frost? (Formerly) overrated, and hardly essential. Once upon a time James Russell Lowell and O.H.
    Message 1 of 18 , Dec 23, 2006
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      Come on-- Catcher in the Rye? Emily Dickinson? Robert
      Frost? (Formerly) overrated, and hardly essential. Once upon
      a time James Russell Lowell and O.H. Holmes Sr. were
      considered canon, for much the same flimsy reasons. Where's T.
      S. Eliot? And *all* of Shakespeare's plays? Titus
      Andronicus? Two Gentlemen of Verona? Time would be much
      better spent reading the best of Marlowe or Jonson. Trade one
      Dickens for a Hardy. Replace W&P with Karenina. Cut the Bible
      down -nobody reads Numbers or Deuteronomy, and Chronicles just
      rehashes Kings. Also (speaking as a philosophy major) few
      teenagers are ready for The Republic until they've digested
      (at a minimum) Phaedo and Meno.



      --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, John D Rateliff <sacnoth@...>
      wrote:
      >
      > Two articles in yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer seem
      apropos
      > to our recent discussion, so I'm posting the links here.
      >
      > The first is on how nostalgia by parents creates demand
      for books
      > they loved when growing up to share with their own kids.
      > Mostly aimed at a somewhat younger audience than we've been
      talking
      > about. Pretty good piece, though I wonder at the reporter's
      thinking
      > "Jabberwocky" is some obscure, half-forgotten work.
      > <>-----------------------------------------------------------
      ----
      >
      > Favorite children's books span generations
      > Your kid's favorite books were likely yours. The reason: It
      > helps you remember your childhood.
      >
      > * Read the full article at:
      > http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/296502_kidbooks21.html
      >
      > <>-----------------------------------------------------------
      ----
      >
      > The second is a typical lament about how the younger
      generation is
      > Letting The Side Down, this time by not having read all
      thirty of
      > what Wm Bennett, George Will, and Harold Bloom consider
      essential
      > books before they graduate high school. Leaving aside the
      fact that I
      > wouldn't trust Bennett or Will to pick my brand of
      toothpaste, much
      > less arbitrate culture, since I didn't read a number of
      these until
      > college, and still haven't read some, it doesn't sound like
      the last
      > trump of doom to me.
      >
      > <>-----------------------------------------------------------
      ----
      >
      > Time takes its toll on the classics -- among students
      > COLONIE, N.Y. -- The literary canon may not be dead across
      > America's college campuses, but its heartbeat has grown weak
      and
      > erratic.
      >
      > * Read the full article at:
      > http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/296145_classics18.html
      >
      > <>-----------------------------------------------------------
      ----
      >
      > Here's the entire list, by the way. Remember, they're being
      > criticized for not having read all thirty before leaving
      high school.
      >
      > 1. The Works of Shakespeare
      >
      > 2. The Declaration of Independence
      >
      > 3. Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn
      >
      > 4. The poems of Emily Dickinson
      >
      > 5. The poems of Robert Frost
      >
      > 6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Scarlet Letter
      >
      > 7. Fitzgerald, Scott F., The Great Gatsby
      >
      > 8. Orwell, George, 1984
      >
      > 9. Homer, Odyssey and Iliad
      >
      > 10. Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two
      Cities
      >
      > 11. Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales
      >
      > 12. Salinger, J.D., Catcher in the Rye
      >
      > 13. The Bible
      >
      > 14. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden
      >
      > 15. Sophocles, Oedipus
      >
      > 16. Steinbeck, John, the Grapes of Wrath
      >
      > 17. Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays and poems
      >
      > 18. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
      >
      > 19. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass
      >
      > 20. The novels of William Faulkner
      >
      > 21. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick
      >
      > 22. Milton, John, Paradise Lost
      >
      > 23. Vergil, Aeneid
      >
      > 24. Plato, The Republic
      >
      > 25. Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto
      >
      > 26. Machiavelli, Niccolo, the Prince
      >
      > 27. Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America
      >
      > 28. Dostoevski, Feodor, Crime and Punishment
      >
      > 29. Aristotle, Politics
      >
      > 30. Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace
      >
      >
      > --JDR
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      >
    • William Cloud Hicklin
      ... Mostly the Greek and Latin authors- and mostly not in translation. Also Shakespeare. Perhaps Milton. Certainly nothing written after 1700. The old
      Message 2 of 18 , Dec 23, 2006
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        > By comparision, I wonder: what would
        > Tolkien have read at King Edward's?

        Mostly the Greek and Latin authors- and mostly not in
        translation. Also Shakespeare. Perhaps Milton. Certainly
        nothing written after 1700. The old ideal of a "classical
        education" regarded the Novel as mass entertainment, a thing of
        little worth.
        >
        >
        > >>---jane Bigelow <jbigelow@> wrote:
        > >> Egad. I indulge in a bit of lamenting the ignorance of the
        > younger generation now and then myself, but that book list is
        > completely unreasonable. How many people are ready to read
        *and
        > understand* most of those titles before the age of eighteen?
        Also,
        > I'm all for classical scholarship, but I do think we should
        have
        > some contact with modern writers such as, say Tolkien. ;-) As
        a
        > librarian I respect reading tremendously, but people may need
        to get
        > up and do something else now and then, too.
        >
      • William Cloud Hicklin
        ... You mean like the Necronomicon :)
        Message 3 of 18 , Dec 23, 2006
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          --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, jane Bigelow <jbigelow@...>
          wrote:
          >....No scholars from the Arab
          > world?

          You mean like the Necronomicon :)
        • Bill West
          Most of the list appears every summer on the various summer reading lists I see at the bookstore, although the more challenging works usually are assigned by
          Message 4 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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            Most of the list appears every summer on the various summer
            reading lists I see at the bookstore, although the more challenging
            works usually are assigned by the Catholic schools. I can tell by
            what books the parent or student asks for the high school the
            child is attending . Seamus Heaney's " Beowulf" for example
            usually means the customer's list is from Boston College High
            School. Recently a split developed on Homer. Some of the
            schools prefer the Fitzgerald translation to the new Fagles.

            The biggest problem, IMHO, to a student reading all of the list
            is the education system itself. It's not the individual teacher's fault
            but they can only teach or assign so much in one year. How many of
            us who took US History in high school ever got up to present day,
            for example? And now at least in Mass. they spend time preparing
            and reviewing for the MCAS exams. I'm all for improving test
            scores but what about education?

            Ah well. I plan to spend some time reading the older Butler prose
            translations of Homer and Vergil I picked up for half price at the
            store. Not as beautiful as the verse versions but it's nostalgia for
            me. I read The Odyssey back in the 3rd or 4th grade.
          • Jonathan Michael Reiter
            I think we re talking about real time Arab Scholars. Abdul Al-Hazred is a fictional character of a H.P. Lovecraft s... As is The Necronomicon, another
            Message 5 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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              I think we're talking about real time Arab Scholars. Abdul Al-Hazred is a fictional character of a H.P. Lovecraft's...
              As is The Necronomicon, another fictional character in the Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraft's imagining, as well as being a fictional artifact...
              Jonathan Michael Reiter
              jmr
              ----- Original Message -----
              From: William Cloud Hicklin
              To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Saturday, December 23, 2006 10:50 PM
              Subject: [mythsoc] Re: old favorites and sagging canon


              --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, jane Bigelow <jbigelow@...>
              wrote:
              >....No scholars from the Arab
              > world?

              You mean like the Necronomicon :)






              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • David Bratman
              ... And to have them force-fed. Tom Stoppard recently wrote a play featuring some famous 19th century Russian intellectuals as characters, and was surprised
              Message 6 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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                >At 08:45 PM 12/23/2006 -0700, jane Bigelow wrote:

                >My objection is to the idea
                >that a beginning college student should have read all of them,
                >especially in those cases where there's just an author listing. All
                >of Dickens? All of Shakespeare?

                And to have them force-fed. Tom Stoppard recently wrote a play featuring
                some famous 19th century Russian intellectuals as characters, and was
                surprised by a lack of interest in staging it in Russia. It turned out
                that the Russians had had these guys stuffed down their throats in high
                school, and were sick of them.

                >This is being referred to as the canon. Even in the case of
                >Shakespeare, there are some plays that are now done only by groups
                >determined to do the entire canon of his works--and if you attend
                >one, you can usually see why they're done so seldom!

                Some, yes, but even bad Shakespeare is better than a lot of other people,
                and there are some hidden gems, especially if they're performed well. The
                Henry VI plays are dynamite on stage, especially Part III, which introduces
                the evil Richard of Gloucester and is actually a much better play than its
                better-known successor with his name on it. I also like Coriolanus, the
                tragedy of an exasperated man surrounded by a sea of cluelessness. Somehow
                I empathize.

                David Bratman
              • jane Bigelow
                Ah yes, standardized tests. It s the CSAP here in Colorado, and it eats weeks of time. An Arizona cousin of mine has quite teaching grade school because she
                Message 7 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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                  Ah yes, standardized tests. It's the CSAP here in Colorado, and it
                  eats weeks of time. An Arizona cousin of mine has quite teaching
                  grade school because she can no longer try to give her students what
                  they need because of the time pressure from their version of the monster.

                  Sorry, I think I may be getting off topic there. Drilling people for
                  test scores does make it hard to pass along great ideas.

                  Jane

                  At 01:44 AM 12/24/2006, you wrote:

                  >Most of the list appears every summer on the various summer
                  >reading lists I see at the bookstore, although the more challenging
                  >works usually are assigned by the Catholic schools. I can tell by
                  >what books the parent or student asks for the high school the
                  >child is attending . Seamus Heaney's " Beowulf" for example
                  >usually means the customer's list is from Boston College High
                  >School. Recently a split developed on Homer. Some of the
                  >schools prefer the Fitzgerald translation to the new Fagles.
                  >
                  >The biggest problem, IMHO, to a student reading all of the list
                  >is the education system itself. It's not the individual teacher's fault
                  >but they can only teach or assign so much in one year. How many of
                  >us who took US History in high school ever got up to present day,
                  >for example? And now at least in Mass. they spend time preparing
                  >and reviewing for the MCAS exams. I'm all for improving test
                  >scores but what about education?
                  >
                  >Ah well. I plan to spend some time reading the older Butler prose
                  >translations of Homer and Vergil I picked up for half price at the
                  >store. Not as beautiful as the verse versions but it's nostalgia for
                  >me. I read The Odyssey back in the 3rd or 4th grade.
                  >
                  >
                • Katie Glick
                  Okay, I have to play. I only graduated high school 13 years ago so I m guessing the outlook isn t as bleak as the people who wrote the article might think,
                  Message 8 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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                    Okay, I have to play. I only graduated high school 13 years ago so I'm
                    guessing the outlook isn't as bleak as the people who wrote the article
                    might think, unless things have drastically declined in the past decade.
                    I'll also say that I read many more things in high school in addition to the
                    selections from the list that were read, and most were just as worthy of
                    being included--like previously mentioned Thomas Hardy and TS Eliot, Richard
                    Wright, a great deal of "world literature" that I think was much more
                    interesting than "War and Peace", short stories and poems of different
                    literary periods, and much more. In fact, I could conceive of a high school
                    curriculum that contains NONE of the things on the list and still provides a
                    great and well-rounded education. So there.

                    1. The Works of Shakespeare (read Romeo & Juliet in 9th grade, Macbeth &
                    Othello and several sonnets in 12th grade for English classes, and was a
                    "drama geek" so I had read several others in high school on my own, mostly
                    comedies and a few tragedies. Read all works by sophomore year in college as
                    I had to take three Shakespeare classes in freshman and sophomore year.)

                    2. The Declaration of Independence (Yes, we read this in 11th grade history
                    class)

                    3. Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn (11th grade English)

                    4. The poems of Emily Dickinson (read several in 11th grade English, was
                    given "The Complete Poems" by my aunt, so I read them all by the time I was
                    18)

                    5. The poems of Robert Frost (we read a few in 11th grade English, not my
                    favorite so I haven't read anymore)

                    6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Scarlet Letter (11th grade English)

                    7. Fitzgerald, Scott F., The Great Gatsby (11th grade English)

                    8. Orwell, George, 1984 (In 12th grade government class we had to do
                    independent book reports on one fictional and one nonfiction book having to
                    do with government. I chose 1984 and All the President's Men. 1984 scared
                    the crap out of me, and still does.)

                    9. Homer, Odyssey and Iliad (We read these in 10th grade English)

                    10. Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities (read
                    Great Expectations in 9th grade English and again in 12th grade drama class
                    and then again in my college literature survey. Still have not read a Tale
                    of Two Cities, but did read Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, Bleak House,
                    and David Copperfield before I was 18. I had an inexplicable love for
                    Dickens and my parents had the complete works at home)

                    11. Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales (read in 12th grade English and
                    in college)

                    12. Salinger, J.D., Catcher in the Rye (11th grade English--I do think this
                    is an important part of the high school canon because it's one of the few
                    things you'll read in a literature class where you are able, as a teenager,
                    to relate to the main character (at least for ME it was, others may vary).
                    It definitely stands out for me as being something that immediately took
                    hold of me, because it was the first thing I read for school that seemed to
                    speak to my immediate situation. Up until that point, for me, reading
                    "literary" books had been difficult, and I thought only the kind of juvenile
                    literature that I read for pleasure could be relatable. This book changed
                    everything for me. I realized there was real literature out there that could
                    speak directly to my own experience of life.)

                    13. The Bible (read in 10th grade English [as a piece of "world
                    literature."])

                    14. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (11th grade English)

                    15. Sophocles, Oedipus (Did not read for class, but read on my own [drama
                    geek again], read again in college in history of theatre class)

                    16. Steinbeck, John, the Grapes of Wrath (11th grade English)

                    17. Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays and poems (11th grade English, not all, but
                    some essays. I was sure he was on drugs.)

                    18. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (12th grade English, I also read all
                    other Jane Austen on my own that year, because I loved it so much. Read
                    again in college.)

                    19. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass (11th grade English)

                    20. The novels of William Faulkner (Read "As I Lay Dying" in 11th grade
                    English. Or rather--attempted to read it. I hated it. But still remember to
                    this day the chapter that simply read: "My mother is a fish.")

                    21. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick (We also attempted to read Billy Budd in
                    11th grade. It was hopeless. I tried to get through chapter one three times,
                    then threw the book across the room. Our teacher gave up and gave us a 10
                    question multiple choice test that "could be answered if you read the Cliff
                    Notes." I'm sure it's a great book, but not for me at 16.)

                    22. Milton, John, Paradise Lost (12th grade English. Did not have to read in
                    college, although many English majors took a whole class on him in first or
                    second year, which I was exempt from.)

                    23. Vergil, Aeneid (did not read, read on my own while in college)

                    24. Plato, The Republic (did not read. Read in college philosophy class)

                    25. Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto (did not read. Read in college
                    philosophy class-"Psychological (Freudian) Marxism." I don't recommend this
                    branch of philosophy.)

                    26. Machiavelli, Niccolo, the Prince (did not read. Read in college class on
                    the Italian Renaissance)

                    27. Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America (have never read this)

                    28. Dostoevski, Feodor, Crime and Punishment (did not read. Read in college
                    Russian Literature class)

                    29. Aristotle, Politics (did not read. Read in college philosophy class)

                    30. Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace (attempted to read on my own in high school.
                    Got bored and watched the movie instead).

                    So I did read most of these, and I read almost all by the time I was 20.
                    Although I will say that I was a big reader of things on my own, and I was
                    in honors English classes, which required extra reading that regular classes
                    did not do. Also I was an English major in college so whatever I missed, I
                    picked up soon thereafter.

                    HOWEVER. I don't think it's necessary for everyone to enjoy reading or to
                    have read these books in order to be a respectable person. If you're a
                    "humanities" person, it's a good idea to have read a lot of them, but I
                    wouldn't ask anyone to trudge through them if they don't like them, or if
                    they would rather spend their time painting or cooking or fixing a car or
                    writing a computer program or whatever. There are all kinds of experiences
                    to be had in life, and although I love to learn and read, I don't think
                    reading any certain books is necessarily important for everyone. I think
                    what's important is that you spend a lot of time learning about subjects
                    that interest you, rather than forcing yourself to learn about subjects that
                    don't because someone says you should. And I certainly don't think it makes
                    me better or smarter than anyone else to have read these particular books.

                    -kt


                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  • WendellWag@aol.com
                    You know, I hate to think how I would have been judged if a college had decided whether to accept me or not based on how much of this list I had read when I
                    Message 9 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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                      You know, I hate to think how I would have been judged if a college had decided whether to accept me or not based on how much of this list I had read when I graduated from high school. I think I had read a cut version of a couple of Shakespeare's plays in our lousy literature textbooks. I'd read the Declaration of Independence, I think. I'd read 1984 on my own. I'd read some short selections from Homer in our literature books. I'd read a cut version of a Dickens novel in our textbooks. I'd read large parts of the Bible. And that's it. Depite this, I was easily the biggest reader in my high school class

                      The same thing was true in other academic areas. I entered college not only planning to study math but hoping to get a Ph.D. in it. Yes, my education was lousy at that point. I recovered from it. And if a college looked at my SAT's (719 V, 772 M), they could tell that I would do well. I shudder to think what they would have done if they had judged my ability by how much I had learned up to that point. Yes, it would be nice for students to be well educated in high school, but the fact is that some students come to college poorly educated and still do well in college.

                      Wendell Wagner

                      >Here's the entire list, by the way. Remember, they're being
                      >criticized for not having read all thirty before leaving high school.
                      >
                      >1. The Works of Shakespeare
                      >
                      >2. The Declaration of Independence
                      >
                      >3. Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn
                      >
                      >4. The poems of Emily Dickinson
                      >
                      >5. The poems of Robert Frost
                      >
                      >6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Scarlet Letter
                      >
                      >7. Fitzgerald, Scott F., The Great Gatsby
                      >
                      >8. Orwell, George, 1984
                      >
                      >9. Homer, Odyssey and Iliad
                      >
                      >10. Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities
                      >
                      >11. Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales
                      >
                      >12. Salinger, J.D., Catcher in the Rye
                      >
                      >13. The Bible
                      >
                      >14. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden
                      >
                      >15. Sophocles, Oedipus
                      >
                      >16. Steinbeck, John, the Grapes of Wrath
                      >
                      >17. Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays and poems
                      >
                      >18. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
                      >
                      >19. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass
                      >
                      >20. The novels of William Faulkner
                      >
                      >21. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick
                      >
                      >22. Milton, John, Paradise Lost
                      >
                      >23. Vergil, Aeneid
                      >
                      >24. Plato, The Republic
                      >
                      >25. Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto
                      >
                      >26. Machiavelli, Niccolo, the Prince
                      >
                      >27. Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America
                      >
                      >28. Dostoevski, Feodor, Crime and Punishment
                      >
                      >29. Aristotle, Politics
                      >
                      >30. Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace
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                      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                    • William Cloud Hicklin
                      ... Al-Hazred is a fictional character of a H.P. Lovecraft s... ... Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraft s imagining, as well as being a fictional artifact... No!
                      Message 10 of 18 , Dec 24, 2006
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                        --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, Jonathan Michael Reiter
                        <jmrmpd@...> wrote:
                        >
                        > I think we're talking about real time Arab Scholars. Abdul
                        Al-Hazred is a fictional character of a H.P. Lovecraft's...
                        > As is The Necronomicon, another fictional character in the
                        Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraft's imagining, as well as being a
                        fictional artifact...


                        No! Really?? </heavy sarcasm>


                        > Jonathan Michael Reiter
                        > jmr
                        > ----- Original Message -----
                        > From: William Cloud Hicklin
                        > To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                        > Sent: Saturday, December 23, 2006 10:50 PM
                        > Subject: [mythsoc] Re: old favorites and sagging canon
                        >
                        >
                        > --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, jane Bigelow <jbigelow@>
                        > wrote:
                        > >....No scholars from the Arab
                        > > world?
                        >
                        > You mean like the Necronomicon :)
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                        >
                      • jane Bigelow
                        Wendell, I would ve been denied college admission myself if reading even most of the items on that list were a prerequisite. Many were not required by my high
                        Message 11 of 18 , Dec 25, 2006
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                          Wendell,

                          I would've been denied college admission myself if reading even most
                          of the items on that list were a prerequisite. Many were not
                          required by my high school Way Back Then, so the decline of
                          civilization must date back quite awhile. Since I now have my MLS
                          and have published nonfiction, short stories and a novel, I guess I
                          also recovered!

                          It's been decades since I graduated from high school, so I no longer
                          recall what I read then and what much later. Can remember thinking
                          Jane Austen was a total bore, though I loved the Brontes, which I
                          believe I read on my own. It's probably lucky for me that I didn't
                          encounter anyone remotely like Heathcliff in my Kansas City, MO neighborhood.

                          We did briefly encounter Greek tragedy in my senior year. We weren't
                          supposed to look in the back of the book where some of the comedies
                          were, but some of us did. Lysistrata was quite a revelation! It did
                          keep me from ever thinking of the classics as dusty or dull.

                          I do think it's a good idea to be exposed to some things that you
                          don't think you'll like. Sometimes you're surprised, as I was when
                          my husband dragged me to a talk on medieval civil engineering. I
                          just think that a list of such length and complexity is too much to
                          expect as a baseline. At the same time, it leaves out too much that
                          would help to establish a shared core of (not necessarily accepted)ideas.

                          Jane


                          At 06:44 PM 12/24/2006, you wrote:

                          >You know, I hate to think how I would have been judged if a college
                          >had decided whether to accept me or not based on how much of this
                          >list I had read when I graduated from high school. I think I had
                          >read a cut version of a couple of Shakespeare's plays in our lousy
                          >literature textbooks. I'd read the Declaration of Independence, I
                          >think. I'd read 1984 on my own. I'd read some short selections from
                          >Homer in our literature books. I'd read a cut version of a Dickens
                          >novel in our textbooks. I'd read large parts of the Bible. And
                          >that's it. Depite this, I was easily the biggest reader in my high school class
                          >
                          >The same thing was true in other academic areas. I entered college
                          >not only planning to study math but hoping to get a Ph.D. in it.
                          >Yes, my education was lousy at that point. I recovered from it. And
                          >if a college looked at my SAT's (719 V, 772 M), they could tell that
                          >I would do well. I shudder to think what they would have done if
                          >they had judged my ability by how much I had learned up to that
                          >point. Yes, it would be nice for students to be well educated in
                          >high school, but the fact is that some students come to college
                          >poorly educated and still do well in college.
                          >
                          >Wendell Wagner
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