The war on public education continues. This week it was the statue of David at the center of controversy and the story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. I am forever grateful I went to public schools where the teachers taught me to be a culturally literate human. Do these ranters understand the significance of the Renaissance and Michelangelo’s interpretation of the slayer of Goliath? Depicted as defense of civil liberties embodied in Florence, which was threatened on all sides by more powerful states, David’s eyes were turned toward Rome with threatening glare in defiance. It took Michelangelo 4 years to create the 17-foot marble statue that unveiled in 1504. Now, 519 years later, some have decided it is inappropriate.
In the mid-1980’s E.D. Hirsch coined the term cultural literacy. “To be culturally literate is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world.” He was quick to note it was not limited to the arts, but to all information, “extending over the major domains of human activity from sports to science.” Further, Hirsch was adamant cultural literacy could break the cycle of the poor an illiterate. His views culminated in creation of the Core Knowledge program utilized in many urban, rural, and suburban schools across the country. Due to its insistence on mastery of common understandings about history, geography, language arts, and science, students in Core Knowledge programs tended to outscore the rest on college entrance exams. The statue of David and Ruby Bridges are part of that curriculum, as well as the slave trade, the assassination of Lincoln, and Sodom and Gomorrah.
To dictate to an entire generation what they can read and learn is dangerous, for they are doomed to not only make the mistakes of the past, but will be automatons, robots, who will be unable to see solutions to issues as they arise. Creative thought and critical thinking will go by the wayside.
I realize how fortunate I was to have a well-rounded, rigorous education. I saw David’s statue and read Catcher in the Rye, Moll Flanders, and To Kill o Mockingbird, and survived. I’ve seen the Broadway plays, such as The Full Monty, Hair, Cabaret, and Hairspray and survived. I learned about evolution and the Big Bang Theory and survived. But the most poignant quote I memorized was by Thomas Jefferson: For nation to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.