“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
These words from Lincoln’s second inaugural address represent some of the most profound ever written or spoken by a leader of any country. Lincoln might have come out of the backwoods, but his mind was among the best to ever present itself on the American scene.
Lincoln was largely self-educated, but he was among the most gifted at articulation, both in writing and in speech, and could express the often ineffable, as he frequently had to do during our nation’s greatest crisis, when words failed in the face of the unthinkable. By his own admission, the books he read which influenced his thinking and his writing style the most were the King James Bible, and the plays of William Shakespeare (he had an especial fondness for Macbeth).
It now appears, however, the Common Core State Standards Initiative would have judged Mr. Lincoln’s preparation for his public career to be sadly deficient. And, fortunately,Common Core–the organization that establishes standards for 46 out of 50 states–has recommendations for correcting this situation. According to an article in the London Daily Telegraph (“Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum,” December 7, 2012) the “new educational standards have the backing of the influential National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and are being part-funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”
The article goes on to say that the new school curricula will make it mandatory that 70 percent of required reading be non-fiction. “Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council.” Those who support this new curriculum say that it will help pupils to develop “the ability to write concisely and factually, which will be more useful in the workplace than a knowledge of Shakespeare.”
I couldn’t agree more! Lincoln’s reliance on the King James Bible and Shakespeare was simply a matter of necessity. I am sure that, had he had access to studies by the US Environmental Protection Agency his words would have been less cumbersome, and perhaps more meaningful to us today. Had Lincoln been raised under this new curriculum, Lincoln’s address might have been more like this:
“We all hope this war will end soon. Slavery was the cause, and the thousands who died its inevitable effect. That’s just the way things work out. [Subtext: God is dead.]
“We’re not looking for payback. When this war is over, let’s just try to find a way to, I don’t know, all get along.”
How much better is that? Concise. Understandable. Clear to even those with short attention spans. Which, today, is just about everybody.
I wish Common Core the best as it seeks to find ways to improve our learning, our communication skills, and our ability to pass SAT and ACT tests so schools can claim that they prepare their students for the workplace. Preparing them for life goes beyond the scope of public education, after all.
Meanwhile, those silly Brits across the pond are taking a very different approach. Rather than move away from literature in the curriculum, they are taking a giant leap backwards by encouraging–yes! actually encouraging–children ages 14 to 18 to participate in a national poetry recitation competition every year. The Government is even funding this anachronism to the tune of a half-million pounds (roughly $800 million), according to another recent article in The Telegraph (“Teenagers to recite Ozymandias off by heart in schools,” December 6, 2012).
Fortunately for Americans, if the proposed standards take root, students won’t have to test their imaginations any further with books like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, or any of those cursed plays by Shakespeare. It’s such a pain to have to think too deeply, and students will appreciate having this burden lifted from them. It’s not their job to think–that’s what the government is there for.
In the future, we can look forward to a workforce consisting of people with little imagination who will be much more efficient and who express themselves pithily. This is ideal for a “sound bite nation,” and will serve us all so much better with so much less bother. Look how well it has served politics, where judging by the recent performance of elected officials in Congress, not to mention the Illinois legislature, imagination is sorely lacking.
Yes, this new initiative bodes well for our future.
Yet somehow, although I know it is anachronistic to quote the classics, I am reminded of something the famous philosopher Daffy Duck once said:
“Somebody shoot me! Shoot me now!”
Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris