*Why it Matters What is Read in High School* by Russell Kirk

In many American high schools, the teaching of literature is in the sere and yellow leaf. One reason for this decay is the unsatisfactory quality of many programs of reading; another is the limited knowledge of humane letters possessed by some well-intentioned teachers, uncertain of what books they ought to select for their students to digest well.

In this brief essay, I propose to suggest, first, the sort of literature which ought to be taught; and then to list certain works of imaginative letters—poetry, novels, plays, philosophical studies, and other branches of letters not embraced by the natural sciences or by social studies—especially commendable for this purpose. T. S. Eliot remarked that it is not so important what books we read as that we should read the same books. He meant that a principal purpose of studying literature is to give us all a common culture, ethical and intellectual, so that a people may share a general heritage and be united through the works of the mind. There exist a great many good books, Eliot knew: of these many com­mendable books, we need to select for general study a certain elevated few for particular attention that nearly everyone may share in our cultural patrimony. This is my purpose here—though I claim no sovereign au­thority, and stand ready to have other people substitute books of equal merit for some or many of the titles I suggest. Read more…

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