Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Textbook Query:

Hi friends. Here's a quote from a high school textbook. The "Pope" mentioned is Alexander Pope, 18th century writer and thinker. Without further ado:

"Nature here does not mean beautiful scenery or the observed behavior of other people: it refers to the way in which the world reflects God's purposes. Pope maintains that a general view of the scheme of things enables us to discover what these purposes are. Our minds can take in the creator's scheme because our minds, imperfect though they are, are nonetheless made in accord with the pattern or image of the divine mind. We can see that it is God's world because God has given us minds equipped to see just that."

Well! Quite a quote! Let me ask you this simple question: what kind of high school textbook do you think this quote came from? What kind of school do you think would use such a textbook? What kind of publishing house would publish a biographical sketch about an author, describing his view with that language?

These days, the immediate answer would be, a Christian textbook, a Christian school, and a Christian publishing house.

But you're wrong.

This quote came from Adventures in English Literature, a public school text published in 1979 (and perhaps later than that; my particular copy is the '79 edition), and published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.  I've been using this textbook on and off for about 15 years. We used it at Cono Christian School in Iowa, but they also used it at the public high school down the road in Center Point, Iowa. At the time, it was just a standard text.

Quentin Anderson is the editor responsible for the biographical information on Pope. He was a literary critic and respected professor at Columbia University and grew up in New York City. I know nothing more about him than what the Wikipedia article states.  There's nothing to indicate he was a zealot for Christianity.  But that should not be necessary for an honest academic to articulate the views of a dead writer like Pope.  What I thoroughly dislike is the politically correct patina that is painted over all material in recent high school textbooks. Christian writers like T.S. Eliot cannot be depicted as Christian -- the text may allude vaguely to some faith or spirituality in the man, but nothing more. 

What I like about the above quote is that it goes far beyond Pope's religious views, whatever they may have been.  Anderson's editorial voice digs deeply into the worldview that permeated the civilization that Pope loved, a worldview that would later be under attack.  Anderson does not shy away from a frank presentation of the orderly universe Pope believed in, and its roots in the mind of God. I presume he believed that such a presentation would at least inspire honest discussion about Pope's views by the high school students who read them.

Where has this honest discussion gone in today's schools?  Public schools cannot present Christianity convincingly in today's climate, even from the dead lips of great authors who espoused it. Christian schools sometimes avoid studying non-Christian authors as well. Does either side value honest discourse anymore?

This subject troubles me.  As a teacher, I believe in honest assessment of the material.  As a Christian teacher, I believe that the grid of a Christian worldview is always effective in evaluating literature I study-- it never fails. But if we fear studying the pagan, or if the pagan fears studying us, then we both have failed.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I was in high school biology class (probably around 1977) and the teacher HAD to present Creation and Evolution equally. I agree with you that we ought to be able to hear out either side of a discussion or idea. As a Christian, I'm not fearful of learning about other religions, ideas, or sciences because I know I can weigh them against what I believe.



Hello! I hope you leave a word ~ I will get back to it as soon as I can!