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Classics for Tots on the Way Up
Townhall.com ^ | November 1, 2013 | Suzanne Fields

Posted on 11/01/2013 11:35:07 AM PDT by Kaslin

Three decades ago, Woody Allen made a movie called "Zelig," and Zelig is still among us -- popping up in Hollywood, politics, academia and anywhere where ambition is on the make. Zelig is a human chameleon, a liar and an imposter eager to fit in anywhere opportunity knocks. Under hypnosis, he tells his psychiatrist that he started lying when he was a boy. A clique of bright schoolmates asked him whether he had read "Moby Dick," and he said he had when he hadn't. In those distant days, the literary canon, with its great books, was important enough that few dared admit they hadn't read such an important literary work.

Even fewer suffer that problem today. English majors have fallen on hard times. The study of the humanities is in sharp decline, and "Moby Dick" has gone the way of Captain Ahab, into the drink. But literary appreciation is staging a comeback, starting with the ridiculous, leading to the serious and sometimes close to the sublime.

"The lives of successful people almost never involve continuing to do what they were prepared for," says Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University, of liberal arts education. "As their lives unfold, they find that by drawing on their preparation in unexpected ways, they're able to do things they hadn't intended or imagined." Even in the digital age, the spoken and written word remains the basic tool of communication, and the successful have to know how to make a cogent argument in more than 140 characters. A library of "cozy classics" has now been published for a teething set. Babies and toddlers, the New York Times tells us, are offered board books of "Moby Dick," "War and Peace," and "Wuthering Heights." Food for thinking. These infants get to chew on the written word.

"People are realizing that it's never too (soon) to start putting things in front of them that are a little more meaningful, that have more levels," says Suzanne Gibbs Taylor, a publisher whose BabyLit series has sold more than 300,000 books. She has re-created Jane Austen for the youngest among us.

These books are no doubt published more for the satisfaction of parents than for drooling infants, but the publishers heed the latest advice from the child-development specialists, who stress the importance of reading to infants early and often. They testify to a craving for a common core of literature that was foolishly dropped from high schools and universities. Feminists railed against Prince Charming mounting a white horse to ride to the rescue of Cinderella, but Elizabeth Bennet's Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" remains a hero in both book and film. Other literary classics have followed as the focus for adults in book clubs, as new parents and older grandparents discover what they didn't read when they were younger and now wish they had.

"Has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were needed more?" Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic, asked the graduating class at Brandeis University. He, like a growing number of others, is concerned about the obsession with speed, utility and convenience that results in the neglect of substance and content.

When academics at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a report called "The Heart of the Matter," seeking more emphasis on the humanities and social sciences, the politicians greeted it with the usual breast beating, lamenting the lack of literacy in the schools, but with little result. That's because educational change must come from those closer to the problem: the parents and teachers who can demonstrate the importance of the humanities to an integrated life, and corporate and business leaders who can insist that college graduates know of the humanities and something besides spreadsheets.

Steve Jobs knew the importance of fusing metaphor with machine and sought innovators with a background in the liberal arts to work with engineers to create Apple designs. Norman Augustine, former head of Lockheed Martin, has long argued the importance of both the arts and science in education. Employers, he says, want the skills the humanities teach -- critical thinking, weighing interpretations, and analytical clarity. Humanities majors scored 9 percent higher than business majors on the Graduate Management Admission Test when applying to business school.

Trends in childhood development come and go, and just as Baby Einstein toys that played Mozart and Beethoven did not composers make, teething on "Moby Dick" won't create another Herman Melville. But this trend encourages great books that teach great lessons. It's not even too late for Woody Allen to read "Moby Dick.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 11/01/2013 11:35:07 AM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

I thought Moby Dick was a social disease.


2 posted on 11/01/2013 11:38:43 AM PDT by Mr Ramsbotham (If you liked the website, you'll LOVE the healthcare!)
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To: Kaslin

Well, there is a renewed interest in classical education today.


3 posted on 11/01/2013 11:43:38 AM PDT by goldi
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To: Kaslin

Never read Melville, and didn’t get into anything heavy until lit classes in high school. I have a niece who’s 12. Atlas Shrugged might be a bit much for her, but next time I go home, she will be getting my copy of Animal Farm.


4 posted on 11/01/2013 11:45:46 AM PDT by Antihero101607
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To: Kaslin
If they want to read the classics, they should start with this, by Rudyard Kipling, from a year after the end of The Great War:

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


5 posted on 11/01/2013 11:45:51 AM PDT by DuncanWaring (The Lord uses the good ones; the bad ones use the Lord.)
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To: Kaslin
Richard Brodhead is the guy who threw the Duke Lacrosse players to the mob of race baiters. He refused to take any action over the 88 faculty members who signed a petition condemning their own students before the facts in the case emerged. Apparently, his study of the classics taught him nothing about courage. He is the worst kind of coward.
6 posted on 11/01/2013 11:55:36 AM PDT by Old North State
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To: Mr Ramsbotham
I thought Moby Dick was a social disease.

Nah, he's that techno musician that the rapper MnM hates :-)

7 posted on 11/01/2013 12:00:27 PM PDT by Turbo Pig (...to close with and destroy the enemy...)
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To: Kaslin
Three decades ago, Woody Allen made a movie called "Zelig," and Zelig is still among us -- popping up in Hollywood, politics, academia and anywhere where ambition is on the make. Zelig is a human chameleon, a liar and an imposter eager to fit in anywhere opportunity knocks. Under hypnosis, he tells his psychiatrist that he started lying when he was a boy. A clique of bright schoolmates asked him whether he had read "Moby Dick," and he said he had when he hadn't. In those distant days, the literary canon, with its great books, was important enough that few dared admit they hadn't read such an important literary work.

Even fewer suffer that problem today. English majors have fallen on hard times. The study of the humanities is in sharp decline, and "Moby Dick" has gone the way of Captain Ahab, into the drink. But literary appreciation is staging a comeback, starting with the ridiculous, leading to the serious and sometimes close to the sublime.

Ping for later

8 posted on 11/01/2013 12:18:58 PM PDT by Alex Murphy (Just a common, ordinary, simple savior of America's destiny.)
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To: Mr Ramsbotham

Call me unamused.


9 posted on 11/01/2013 12:21:11 PM PDT by Romulus
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To: DuncanWaring

Kipling is wonderful for kids. Even Disney’s pre pagan rendition of “the Jungle Book” is superior to most in the genre.

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/englit/kipling/


10 posted on 11/01/2013 12:26:55 PM PDT by stanne
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To: stanne

Kipling is hands down the greatest master of the English language since Shakespeare. Unappreciated master, at that.


11 posted on 11/01/2013 12:45:41 PM PDT by FateAmenableToChange
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To: FateAmenableToChange
Kipling is hands down the greatest master of the English language since Shakespeare. Unappreciated master, at that.

I agree, but I would argue that Robert Service is a close second.

12 posted on 11/01/2013 1:04:42 PM PDT by JoeFromSidney ( book, RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY, available from Amazon.)
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To: Mr Ramsbotham
Nah, that's "Mopy Dick"
13 posted on 11/01/2013 1:07:27 PM PDT by Boogieman
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To: FateAmenableToChange
I did my undergraduate work at a liberal arts college. I majored in physics, with a strong math minor. However, since it was a liberal arts college, and I was working toward an AB, I had to take a lot of humanities courses. Composition, American and English literature, a foreign language, American and world history, etc., etc. At the time I resented it. What, I would think, do these have to do with becoming a scientist? Well, as it turned out, they had nothing to do with becoming a scientist. They had a lot to do with becoming an informed citizen, a modestly successful author, and a reasonably well-rounded individual. I have never regretted taking those courses.

I strongly recommend that college students major in something at which they can make a living (business, science, engineering, etc.), but cram in as much humanities and other liberal arts as they can manage. Later on in life they will be glad they did.

14 posted on 11/01/2013 1:12:34 PM PDT by JoeFromSidney ( book, RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY, available from Amazon.)
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To: FateAmenableToChange

Note he was also the first English-language author to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.


15 posted on 11/01/2013 2:18:37 PM PDT by DuncanWaring (The Lord uses the good ones; the bad ones use the Lord.)
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To: DuncanWaring
One of my all-time favorite poems, but one of my all-time favorite writers. It prophesized what's happening to America now.

He was such an incredibly gifted man. Once per century type gifted.

16 posted on 11/01/2013 2:19:50 PM PDT by AAABEST (Et lux in tenebris lucet: et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt)
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To: Mr Ramsbotham
I thought Moby Dick was a social disease.

I thought it was a John Bonham drum solo.

17 posted on 11/01/2013 2:20:42 PM PDT by dfwgator
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To: FateAmenableToChange

Kipling could foresee the future.

Could Shakespeare?


18 posted on 11/01/2013 2:42:51 PM PDT by DuncanWaring (The Lord uses the good ones; the bad ones use the Lord.)
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To: AAABEST
He [Kipling] was such an incredibly gifted man. Once per century type gifted.

Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville weren't exactly rissoles.

The Horatio Alger series was rissoles, but their author was huge, speaking to the peculiarly American virtues of an age, and his stories answered and stoked the imaginations of two generations of self-made men.

19 posted on 11/01/2013 2:59:52 PM PDT by lentulusgracchus
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To: DuncanWaring

Could Shakespeare?

Anyone who understood the human heart as well as Shakespeare did must infallibly know the future...and show it when he picks up his pen. Kipling was more deliberately a political commentator than The Bard was.


20 posted on 11/01/2013 3:00:09 PM PDT by TalBlack (Evil doesn't have a day job.)
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To: Kaslin
Yeah, the kids are all supposed to get off on Jhumpa Lahiri now .... my half-Indian distaff junior relatives read her as de rigeur .... Lahiri and V.S. Naipaul.

Wish to hell they'd read Jack London and Stephen Crane in those schools.

21 posted on 11/01/2013 3:01:39 PM PDT by lentulusgracchus
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To: TalBlack
Kipling nearly became a U.S. citizen .... he was living in Brattleboro in 1894, but some half-assed diplomatic rumpus between the U.S. and Britain led to some things being said, and then some other things being said, and he went home to England. His writing changed, btw, it is said, and he was never quite the same again. Somewhat dispirited, we are told, as if he'd been deflected from his life's trajectory.

He'd have made a hell of an addition to New England letters.

22 posted on 11/01/2013 3:03:57 PM PDT by lentulusgracchus
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To: Antihero101607

Excellent! It’s never too early. She’ll love it. I read Animal Farm in 4th grade. It was in our school library. It set my political course, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I just knew that some governments could be very unfair and mean, and the people who ran those countries were called dictators. My dad probably told me what a dictator was. By the time I was in sixth grade, our teacher told us how evil and ruthless the Soviet Union was and what the hammer and sickle stood for. I remember asking her if Khrushchev was a dictator.


23 posted on 11/01/2013 3:04:28 PM PDT by FrdmLvr ("WE ARE ALL OSAMA, 0BAMA!" al-Qaeda terrorists who breached the American compound in Benghazi)
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To: lentulusgracchus

Oh, and his return to England eventually delivered his son to the meatgrinder of Flanders ..... something he never got over, ever.


24 posted on 11/01/2013 3:05:02 PM PDT by lentulusgracchus
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To: FrdmLvr; Antihero101607
Animal Farm is a foundational read, I agree. Even the VHS animated film version if nothing else -- like the old Classics Illustrated, or the Cliff Notes Version of everything.

Orwell's rock-bottom message to us was a warning about the intellectual and moral vacuity of totalitarian ideologues. They almost killed him in Spain. Before, he was a happy left-wing English fellow-traveler. After the Communists turned on the French syndicalists and everyone else in sight, Orwell had to flee for his life. That's when he smelled the coffee.

25 posted on 11/01/2013 3:08:52 PM PDT by lentulusgracchus
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To: lentulusgracchus

“He’d have made a hell of an addition to New England letters.”

Twain absolutely loved Kipling and late in his own career when one might expect an old hand to snipe at the rising talent. That right there backs your position (it also says a hell of a lot about Kipling’s power of expression).


26 posted on 11/01/2013 3:32:00 PM PDT by TalBlack (Evil doesn't have a day job.)
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To: lentulusgracchus

“..... something he never got over, ever.”

Man do I get that. As the first time, 55 year old father of a 3 and a half year old boy, hearing such things as this affects me terribly. I had no idea during the previous 52 years of life how easily I just breezed along through the days. Whenever I read or hear of Kipling I’ll think of this. Sad and frightening what people must bear.


27 posted on 11/01/2013 3:42:25 PM PDT by TalBlack (Evil doesn't have a day job.)
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To: Old North State

“Apparently, his study of the classics taught him nothing about courage.”

Thank you for pointing that out. Talking the talk, that is all.

These books sounds cute, maybe I’ll get some for my grandson. My daughter won’t read a lick, but his dad is a good reader, so there is some hope!


28 posted on 11/01/2013 4:42:35 PM PDT by jocon307
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To: JoeFromSidney

I’ll admit that I had never read Service before. I pulled a few selections off Amazon for my kindle, and it’s really good stuff. Kipling is, and always will be, the top of the heap for me, but thanks for turning me on to Service’s writings.


29 posted on 11/04/2013 1:15:52 PM PST by FateAmenableToChange
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To: DuncanWaring

And then abandoned post haste for suggesting that the impacts of British colonialism were not universally bad.


30 posted on 11/04/2013 1:27:49 PM PST by FateAmenableToChange
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