Excerpts from a nice blog post by Peter Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College.
American kids, more than ever, are stratified into those who read—those who have regular access to books, and those who don’t. I’m not talking here about basic literacy, but being open to the human good that is the enjoyment of literature. I could go on to explain that it’s the capacity to enjoy and really see what’s going on when words are deployed well that’s a virtually indispensable prerequisite for any position of leadership. But I want my main takeaway to be that reading is indispensable for beings with souls.
Our wealthy and sophisticated kids go to schools where books are still taken seriously (and sometimes very seriously), if only as the only way to become academically accomplished enough to be admitted to an elite college. Meanwhile, in ordinary or worse public schools—especially in our secondary schools—“real” books have been slowly disappearing. ...
If anyone were serious about reinvigorating the public schools as the great American vehicle of equality of opportunity, there would be more attention to having kids read “real books”—great literature—than ever. Liberally educated teachers would lovingly read Mark Twain or even Harry Potter aloud to our little children, to compensate for what they’re not getting at home. And lots of classroom time would be given over to children reading to each other. Kids would really be held accountable for what and how well they've read in grade after grade. I'm not denying for a moment that we can find this kind of attention in some of our very non-elite schools, and sometimes in surprising places. But if we're going to having national standards, nothing should be more important. The same compensatory bookishness should animate our nonselective colleges. But they, instead, follow the lead of the public schools and their educational experts by being about acquiring skills and competencies while bypassing the “content” found in this or that real book.
You’d wish the impulse behind developing a Common Core would be giving all American citizens access to the same intellectual and imaginative “content.” And my job would be a heck of a lot easier if all students came to college having read many of the same “real” books (and for that matter seen the same classic films).
For now, I can still rely on To Kill a Mockingbird, if not much else. That’s not quite true. Because I teach kids who’ve mostly been to Sunday School (which in much of the South is much more serious and bookish than public school), I can still rely somewhat on their Biblical literacy—or, more precisely, their love of or at least respect for one good book.