What is Education? A Response to the Council on Foreign Relations Report, "U.S. Education Reform and National Security"

Forum is an occasional publication of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.

In this issue of Forum—an occasional publication of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW)—twelve prominent authors reflect on a recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” The CFR study claims that “America’s educational failures pose five distinct threats to national security: threats to economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.” As a consequence, it proposes: 1) severe changes to the curriculum to emphasize “subjects vital to protecting national security;” 2) expanded support for alternative schools, whether charters or through voucher programs; and 3) a “‘national security audit’ to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results.” The CFR study may be downloaded here.

The CFR study raises fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of education, citizenship, individual personhood, and the character of the United States. The ALSCW, as an organization, takes no position on this report or on any other. But since we are a group of teachers, scholars, and writers dedicated to literary studies, our members take a lively interest in the debate about how (or whether) to reform education in the United States. The contributors to this issue of Forum represent divergent views, and are university professors (including faculty from Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Harvard, West Point, and Yale), scholars, and high school teachers from both public and private schools. The issue is edited by Lee Oser of the College of the Holy Cross, and by Rosanna Warren of the University of Chicago. Common themes do emerge. Our authors note the severely utilitarian view of education in the CFR report; the subordination of all cultural goals to the aims of national security; and controversial assumptions about human nature and about democracy in the United States.

Forum 5 sets the CFR report in a wider context of the history of educational reform in this country and should provoke further debate about these urgent questions. We hope you will help to publicize both the CFR report and the responses collected by the ALSCW. Now available as a PDF.

Forum No. 4:

A newly released study by the ALSCW strongly suggests that two factors—a fragmented English curriculum and a neglect of close reading—may explain why the reading skills of American high school students have shown little or no improvement in several decades despite substantial increases in funds for elementary and secondary education by federal and state governments.

The ALSCW report, entitled "Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, and 11: A National Survey", analyzes the responses of more than four hundred representative public school teachers who were asked what works of literature they assign in standard and honors courses, and what approaches they use for teaching students how to understand imaginative literature and literary non-fiction.

Now available as a PDF.

Literary Matters 4.1

Forum No. 3:

Forum No. 3, "The Latest Illiteracy", now brings together many instances of, as well as some reflections on, how different—largely, how much worse —things are these days, both in print and in speech. The underlying questions are the enduring ones. Really worse, not just different? What is the evidence? Is it merely that all of us are getting older, and that the invocation of a golden age is becoming more of a lure? Is it not the case that in the Paston Letters, as long ago as the 15th century, the complaint was being voiced that servants be not so diligent as they were wont to be? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

The "Latest Illiteracy" resists excuses and acquiescences. It is the work of two highly articulate writers—Jim McCue and Bryan Garner—who wish to help others to be no less articulate —and, since individuality is to be respected and fostered, help them to be variously and personally articulate.

Now available as a PDF.

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Forum No. 2:

The ALSCW was founded, in part, to resist what we perceived to be two unhealthy forces of separation: the increasing detachment of the professionalized study of literature, from the concerns of writers practicing the art, on the one hand, and on the other, from the teaching of literature in school programs for the young. The report on "Reading at Risk" addresses both of these concerns as well as many others, and suggests that we cannot think of literature in only a specialized context. A consideration of reading in a society at large, and the raising of complex questions about the nature of "literature," inevitably prompt reflection on the character of our schools, of our libraries, of family life as a structure for education and entertainment, of changing technologies for story-telling and enchantment, and of how our culture is generally conceived.

We are grateful to Mark Bauerlein for having shaped this issue of Forum and for having assembled the divergent views here whose expression, we hope, will provoke more debate, and even more importantly, more projects to foster reading.

Now available as a PDF.

Literary Matters 4.1

Forum No. 1:

I'd like to welcome you to the inaugural issue of Forum: A Publication of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers. Many members of the ALSCW have long sought a new venue in which position papers, commissioned studies, and critical views on a range of pedagogical, educational, cultural, and scholarly subjects reflecting the distinctive perspective of our organization might be made available to a wide audience. With the founding of our newest imprint, Forum, the ALSCW has just such a vehicle. The new imprint is not intended to replace, but rather to supplement our long-standing and distinguished journal, Literary Imagination. Forum will appear on an occasional basis and with the approval of the Executive Council of the ALSCW. Our inaugural issue makes available to members of the ALSCW and to other interested readers "Writing Without Reading: The Decline of Literature in the Composition Classroom", which was commissioned by the Executive Council of the ALSCW. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank John Briggs, the author of this report, for his timely and considered work on a culturally significant issue. Finally, I would like to encourage everyone to read and to share with others the first issue of our new imprint. Forum promises now and in the future to bring greater attention, critical respect, and scholarly distinction to the ALSCW, an organization flourishing as it enters its second decade on the public scene.

Now available as a PDF

Literary Matters 4.1