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Letter: Questioning the role of literature in education

A recent Pioneer article by Crystal Dey quotes Bemidji Schools Superintendent James Hess on the subject of having “high school seniors graduate with a completion certificate they can present to potential employers.” She quotes him as saying “To me that’s a lot better than reading ‘Moby Dick.’ ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Canterbury Tales’ are nice, but you know what, this means employment.”

Dr. Hess is to be commended for his very proper contempt for the role of literature in education, and for rightly understanding that the proper function of our schools is to grind down young Bemidjians into serviceable little cogs for the economic machines owned and run by their betters.

If one could possibly suspect Dr. Hess of sullying his own mind with literature, one might well suppose that he drew inspiration from Thomas Gradgrind of Coketown, in Charles Dickens’s novel “Hard Times.” Mr. Gradgrind, along with his loyal underling the teacher M‘Choakumchild, preached the gospel of Facts, and fought the good fight against imagination or “Fancy.”

Of course Mr. Dickens, bleeding heart that he was, warned that pedagogic attempts to “kill outright the robber Fancy … sometimes only maim and distort him.” Such cowardly worries are rightly despised by our more enlightened educational leader.

Brian Donovan