A few weeks back, Grant Wiggins contributed to the discourse on improving education by suggesting that things could be improved by banning literature from the classroom. As one might imagine, this caused some sharp reactions. The post was originally published at the ASCD Edge blog; it was removed shortly after receiving nearly universal condemnation. Wiggins defended the post as an example of provocative writing that "was meant to invoke A Modest Proposal, the satirical essay from 1729 in which Jonathan Swift argues that the solution to Ireland's economic woes is to eat poor children."
I must confess, I found Mr. Wiggin's post hilarious. One of his central arguments was that fiction should be removed from the curriculum because it favored girls over boys. Oh, Mr. Wiggins, you sardonic merrymaker! Imagine ever doing anything that helped elementary-aged girls, particularly girls growing up in a culture where women still earn 77% less than their male counterparts. That would surely result in the wholesale ruin of our educational system! Maybe we could inscribe the stories for girls on mop handles, and the stories for boys on footballs.
Mr. Wiggins also complained that:
"People didn't get the spirit of what I was doing," Wiggins said. "Irony and sarcasm doesn't work well on Web."
True dat. Irony and sarcasm only lead to trouble. Maybe he should have used some emoticons, or LOLspeak. He can haz fun-e.
I was thinking about symbolism when I heard these two stories recently. The first is about the nature of money, from This American Life.
The whole piece is worth listening to, but if you do nothing else, jump ahead to 35:40 where the process of moving billions of dollars into a bank is described.
You need to picture a computer screen at the Fed that shows the amount of money in a bank's account…Someone at the Fed just changes that number, adds a few billion, clicks a mouse, "and voila, money is created."
How can we teach the value of money - and the potential shortcomings of these definitions of value - without comprehending that the value of currency is a construct, complex to the point where it verges on symbolic?
And this morning, I heard a story about eating chicken in Iraq. It turns out that Sunni and Shiite religious leaders do not accept the halal certifications of the other sect.
At a wholesale market in east Baghdad, the first thing you see in the chicken section is a big poster with the fatwa, or religious ruling, that sanctions Khafeel chicken.
What does that poster - that fatwa - symbolize? What expectations or promises are embodied within it?
Culture - and the symbols embedded within them - helps determine reality. Literature traffics in symbols. Anything that helps us get better at decoding the symbols that comprise the worlds we encounter - and texts are yet another example of worlds we encounter - make us better equipped to understand and navigate these worlds.
Read more. Live well.