In reaction to a rigid, overrefined classical curriculum, some educational philosophers have swung sharply to an espousal of “life experience” as the sole source of learning. Using their narrow interpretation of John Dewey’s theories for support and spouting such phrases as “Teach the child, not the subject,” they demand an end to rigorous study and insist that only through doing can learning take place. While not all adherents to this philosophy would totally eliminate the study of great books, the gradual subordination of literature in the school curriculum reflects their influence.
What is the purpose of literature? Why read if life alone is to be our teacher? James Joyce tells us that the artist reveals the human condition by re-creating life out of life; Aristotle, that art presents universal truths because its form is taken from nature. Thus, consciously or otherwise, great writers extend our understanding of ourselves and our world. We can soar with them to the heights of aspiration or plummet with them to the depths of despair. How much wider is the understanding we gain from reading than from viewing life through the keyhole of our individual experience.
This function of literature, the enlarging of our life sphere, is of major importance in itself. Additionally, however, literature suggests solutions to social problems. The overweening ambitions of political leaders—and their sneering contempt for the law—did not appear for the first time in the writings of Bernstein and Woodward. The problems and behavior of the guilt-ridden did not await the appearance of the bearded psychoanalysts of the nineteenth century.
Federal Judge Learned Hand wrote, “I venture to believe that it is as important to a judge called upon to pass on a question of constitutional law, to have at least a bowing acquaintance with Thucydides, Gibbon, and Carlyle, with Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton, with Montaigne and Rabelais, with Plato, Bacon, Hume, and Kant, as with the books which have been specifically written on the subject. For in such matters everything turns upon the spirit in which he approaches the questions before him.”
How do we overcome our dissenter? We must start with the field of agreement: the belief that education should serve to improve the individual and society. We must persuade our dissenters that the voices of human experience stretch our human faculties and open us to learning. We must convince them of the unity of life and art. We must prove to them that far from being separate, literature is that part of life that illumines life.
Question: The primary purpose of the passage is to
- list the writers who make up the backbone of a great literature curriculum
- explain the function of literature
- advocate the adoption of a new philosophy of education
- plead for the retention of great literature as a fundamental part of the school curriculum
- overcome the opposition of Dewey’s followers to the inclusion of contemporary literature in the curriculum
Question: It can be inferred from the passage that the author considers those who believe in “‘life experience’ as the sole source of learning” to be
Question: Based on the information in the passage, with which of the following statements about education would John Dewey be most likely to agree?
- Education should be a continuous reconstruction of living experience, with the child the center of concern.
- Education is the imparting of knowledge, not the drawing out of what is already in the child.
- Though rigid, the classical curriculum has served us well for centuries and should be restored.
- The purpose of education is to correct the inequalities brought about by the rise of civilization.
- Children should be taught only the skills and knowledge they need to get ahead.
Question: The author implies that children who learn exclusively by doing are likely to
- be good problem solvers but poor judges
- be more guilt-ridden than those who learn both by doing and reading
- have below-average reading skills
- believe that art has nothing to do with life
- have a myopic view of themselves and the world
Question: Which of the following best describes the organization of the third paragraph of the passage?
- An idea is reiterated, a new idea is introduced, and two supporting examples are given.
- The preceding paragraph is summarized and conclusions are drawn.
- A new idea is introduced, the idea is qualified, and the implications of the idea are analyzed.
- The main idea of the preceding paragraph is restated, and evidence is given to support it.
- Two functions of literature are identified, and an example of each is given.
Question: The author quotes Judge Learned Hand (lines 32-41 primarily in order to
- call attention to the writing of Thucydides and Carlyle
- support the point that literature broadens the reader’s understanding
- point out that constitutional law is a part of the great literature of the past
- show that everyone, including judges, enjoys reading
- give specific examples of writers who have suggested solutions to social problems
Question: Which of the following could best be substituted for the words “the subject” in the quotation from Judge Hand without altering the meaning of the quotation?
- The question of constitutional law before the judge
- The contempt of political leaders for the law
- Social problems
- The liberal arts, specifically history, literature, and philosophy
- The human condition
Question: The passage supplies information to suggest that the author and the educational philosophers mentioned in the first paragraph would agree that
- learning is the key to adaptability in an ever-changing environment
- the traditional classroom should be transformed into a learning laboratory
- the purpose of education is to improve society as well as the individual
- one must know history in order to understand the present and the future
- the primary aim of education is the transmission of culture
Question: It can be inferred from the passage that the author makes which of the following assumptions about his readers?
- They believe that schools should reflect society.
- They believe that the subject, not the child, should be taught.
- They favor a return to the classical curriculum.
- They share his view that the study of great books is essential to education.
- They believe that only through reading can learning take place.
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