The Trouble with Textbooks

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In USA Today, English teacher Patrick Welsh writes: "Faced with declining literacy and the ever-growing distractions of the electronic media, faced with the fact that—Harry Potter fans aside—so few kids curl up with a book and read for pleasure anymore, what do we teachers do? We saddle students with textbooks that would turn off even the most passionate reader." A lengthy, lively bill of particulars follows.

[Via Sam Smith.]

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  1. Such texts bastardize literature and history, reducing authors and their works to historical facts to be memorized — what Alfie Kohn, author of The Schools Our Children Deserve, calls “the bunch o’ facts” theory of learning. Students are jerked from one excerpt of literature to another, given no chance for the kind of sustained reading that stimulates the imagination.

    A-M-E-N!

    With my subject, English, special problems exist ? any literature that has a whiff of controversy is kept out of texts to appease the moralists on the right, while second-rate “multicultural” literature is put in to appease the politically correct on the left.

    the death of intellectualism.

  2. I had to teach from the “Elements of Literature” series, and let me assure you it sucks like a vacuum cleaner on steroids. A few examples (and let me state first that NONE of this is made up or even exaggerated):

    As part of the section to teach Thoreau’s “Walden,” the book included excerpts from a speech Don Henley gave, discussing the importance of saving Walden Pond and the Amazonian rain forest; about a quarter of the textbook questions on the subject required the students to “compare and contrast” Henley and Thoreau.

    The twelfth-grade teacher’s edition suggested that to teach medieval ballads, we ask students to discuss current popular songs that feature the ballad format. And the book, published in 1997, suggested that one such current popular ballad the kids could relate to would be Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.”

    One reason the books are so goddamned heavy is that EVERY page features full-color graphics; it’s more pictures than literature. I had to teach my Honors kids something that wasn’t in E of L, so I gave them copies of an old textbook from the Seventies. A small, light, hardcover textbook that you could carry without getting a hernia. The kids all asked me, “Why can’t our books be this light?” I told them, “Because modern textbook publishers think you’re immature twits who won’t read a book without a lot of pretty colored pictures.”

    By the way, my copies of the book had “Annotated Teacher’s Edition” on the cover. The company never responded to my letter pointing out that we teachers were NOT annotated, although our books might be.

  3. I read somewhere textbook publishers are in a pincher movement between fundies on one side and PC Dismal Dorises on the other side so they go as superbland and dumbed down as possible.

  4. Brian–

    It’s true. My twelfth-graders had to read the prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (in modern English), but EVERY SINGLE FUNNY BIT was cut out, so there was nothing left but a boring, hideous laundry list of descriptions.

    I am proud to say that I not only gave my students an unabridged translation of the Prologue, I actually read them “The Miller’s Tale.” And before y’all criticize me for reading dirty sex jokes to a bunch of innocent non-virgin Eminem fans, let me point out that I am possibly the only current or former high-school teacher in the past thirty years who actually had students say things like “This Chaucer guy is cool! Can I borrow your Chaucer book, Miss _____?”

  5. While I’m sympathetic to Mr. Welsh’s plight, I?m unconvinced that much of anything has changed. Indeed these are exactly the same complaints many critiques of government schools were making thirty years ago when I was a lad. Social misfits such as myself, took refuge in the library and managed to extend our education beyond the state approved curriculum. The interweb may make it easier to avoid education, but surely it also makes it easier to obtain one for those so motivated.

  6. I remember high school american history- the course started with reconstruction! I transfered to AP because I thought I had no hope of understanding american history if we were going to skip to the end of the civil war.
    And then there was 10th grade english- the sex=death year. Everything we read involved adultry leading to death or disfigurement- the cruciable, ethian frome etc. at least there was a theme, even if it wasn’t espically relevant at the time (It was a class full of nerds, while we were aware of sex, it had no immedate relivance to our lives)

  7. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t serious scholars at high-class universities in Europe called “readers”?
    I’d be willing to bet big bucks they ain’t readin’ textbooks.

  8. Confirmed Brian…my father in law is VP of a textbook publishing company….between the pincers mentioned and the fact that California (blue) and Texas (red) DOMINATE the market it makes for watered down, nutrient-poor goop

  9. In 10th grade Honors English we read published versions, most notably The Catcher in the Rye. We read the unadulterated versions of man novels that would otherwise spark controversy. I’m so glad I was exposed to these works when I was younger.

    Maybe my teacher was the exception rather than the rule.

  10. Teachers should calm down on the required readings. Make sure the students read the classics and all, but also let the students choose what to read.
    My freshman high school teacher gave our class a huge list of novels, and we got the chance to pick any book off the list to read. Now I always have to read a book, it is almost like an addiction.
    If you let kids read what they want now, they will read better stuff later.

  11. Jennifer,
    Do you think it’s possible McGuffy Readers got literature textbooks headed down the wrong path?

  12. I’m fortunate to teach at a school that has largely abandoned literature textbooks–except in special-ed classes, where students are bludgeoned with vapid summaries in the name of “remedial reading.” Imagine retelling The Odyssey in four minutes.

  13. Ruthless-
    I don’t know; I haven’t seen the McGuffey readers.

    Mike–
    Due to stringent curriculum requirements, teachers CAN’T let kids choose what to read. The teachers often can’t choose, themselves. Christ. *I* sure as hell wouldn’t have made my students read Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “them,” or anything about Angela’s fucking Ashes.

  14. Imagine retelling The Odyssey in four minutes.

    That could be pretty cool! Can I use props?

  15. The textbook publishers don’t actually think all that much about the kids who’ll be reading the books, in my experience. They’re more worried about the adults buying the books and making sure they hit as much on the state adoption checklists as possible.

  16. The Rap Canterbury Tales: http://www.babasword.com/writing/rapcantales.html

    Sure to annoy a school board member near you!

    In high school we requested premission from the principal to preform lysistrata and decribed it as a “ancient greek comedy”, the principal said it was Ok, but then an English teacher who knew both us and greek lit better caught wind of it and stopped it.

    I think she was suprised that the ancient greeks actually wrote baudy plays.

  17. “Imagine retelling The Odyssey in four minutes.”

    Imagine it in the voice of a 9 year old boy.

    And then, there was this cyclops, ok? And he was, he was like…

  18. This is what you get when you have a “one size fits all” public school system. Does any politician or bureaucrat get this?

  19. Imagine retelling The Odyssey in four minutes

    I actually liked that flip phone commercial where they use a quick series of one and two-word sentences to run through Romeo & Juliet. Course, it wasn’t as good as seeing it at the Folger back in Feb. Get this: at the end, the blood pack didn’t go off when Juliet jammed the knife into her belly, so she raised the knife to her neck and slashed her own throat with it instead!!!. That was fucking awesome!

  20. My daughter’s 3rd grade class did individual book report presentations last year. She did The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy. I was so proud.

    I remember our senior class did Far from the Madding Crowd as our class book report assignment. If I hadn’t already been a book goon. I would have sworn off reading for life. It could have been worse, of course, the teacher could have assigned Atlas Shrugged

    One of my fave education moments was when I arrived in college and in my first semester was assigned a Flannery O’Connor story. I felt like I had finally arrived at something worthwhile.

  21. Me, having grown up with a public school education froma small town in Kentucky: we read constantly, and rarely from literature textbooks. We always had complete and unabridged works, and I feel that while by no means perfect, my literature education was surprisingly well rounded — and not limited to the usual suspects. We also read John Gardner, Mark Twain’s non-fiction, Camus, even Kerouak.

    History was much the same. American history began with discovery and ended somewhere right around the election of Gerald Ford (we were still writing the Carter years at the time). World Civ covered the actual world, not just Europe, and when a teacher of mine deemed the official textbook too bland and innaccurate, he was allowed to give us college history texts with naught but a few small black and white photos.

    My girlfriend: educated some years later, in New York City, at what is generally considered the top high school in the city: has never read Twain, never read Chaucer, never read Shakespeare, and somehow even managed to miss the standards like Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, Grapes of Wrath, and Alas Babylon. In fact, other than a few of those dreary Russians, they read practically nothing in high school.

    World and US history seemed to begin with whatever had happened last week, and even that was summed up with a few pie charts.

    Now one could argue that the focus of her school was on math and science — but frankly, the math and science education she got was, at best, on par with my own, with the difference being I had a science teacher that would spin insane yarns about his days in Vietnam, where he bombed VC with watermelons and had to eat sheep eyes (so he said).

    The sad state of education, kids who throw a rock getting sent to prion, and cops busting up illicit lemonade stands — I’ve never been happier to be older. We actually got to have fun AND learn a thing or two — except, apparently, how to run a country or raise children.

    Which is what really gets me. How can people my age be so bad at everything? Where did these people come from, these loathesome, whining, simpering masses who have reduced the history and literature of the world into the dreary and inaccurate talking points memo? Who have moved to ban damn near everything not because it offends someone, but often simply because it is perceived that it could potentially offend someone? Who outlaw everything not because we’re genuinely interested in the public good, but because we simply want to see ourselves on TV, or make a buck? Why, oh Lord, why did my generation turn into the snivelling, wimpering, catty generation of frivolous lawsuits and children who aren’t allowed to walk down the block without a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, and a federal law requiring that barriers be set up to guide them on their way?

    Yes, we sort of stink.

  22. As part of the section to teach Thoreau’s “Walden,” the book included excerpts from a speech Don Henley gave, discussing the importance of saving Walden Pond and the Amazonian rain forest; about a quarter of the textbook questions on the subject required the students to “compare and contrast” Henley and Thoreau.

    oh, is that sad…. that’s enough to make me consider home-schooling.

    notice here how no one complains about their education in mathematics and the sciences — a technical education for industrial components of the economic machine.

  23. Sorry to stick a pin in your clever conspiracy Gaius, but while my math and science education was ‘adequate’ (on par with the soft subjects), I could certainly rant for days on the current state of science education. (dismal, weak and useless would be kind words)

    Perhaps people are talking about literature because that was the focus of the subject article.

    Time to pick up another roll of tinfoil 😉

    Jake
    (who prefers metal salad bowls because they last longer and offer some protection against Red Lectroid darts)

  24. I remember my freshman year of high school, end, sitting in the book storage closet, doing some stupid yearbook thing (all the seniors had gone), where they had rows of all the myriad “new” textbooks that were taking over the curriculum, and tucked away in the back, a host of cheap paperback classics–Sinclair Lewis, Twain, Melville, etc. that weren’t used or approved.

    I swiped a ton of them when I found out they weren’t ever going to be used again, and didn’t go to much of sophomore year before formally leaving.

  25. oh, is that sad…. that’s enough to make me consider home-schooling.
    I’m surprised you don’t Mr. Consul.

    notice here how no one complains about their education in mathematics and the sciences — a technical education for industrial components of the economic machine.
    I’ll be happy to complain about my science education in high school. My Physcics class in 11th grade got saddled with a weird text book that was more of a hard-cover lab exercise book and had few explanations of what we were doing and its significance. My teacher just threw a fit and complained about the book instead of teaching us. I ended up repeating Physics in summer school because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hack it in E-school without it.

    I also was “mercy passed” through my second semester of Calculus in HS. I calculated my grades as a D+, I got a C.

  26. Jennifer,

    I’ve read pretty much everything Chaucer wrote. He is “cool.” BTW, did you discuss with your students Chaucer’s life as a spy?

  27. My Physcics
    or My Physics. Ironically, I did well on the 1990 era SAT Verbals.

  28. Welsh’s conclusion is dead on: “It’s time for states and school districts to kick the mega-textbook habit that four or five big corporations control and start spending money on the kind of books that will make kids want to do sustained reading, to get lost in the written word. For English classes, that’s paperback novels (whole novels) and collections of short stories (complete short stories) and poetry.” It’s the states without adoption laws that have to stop letting their curricular materials be dictated by Texas and California.

  29. The twelfth-grade teacher’s edition suggested that to teach medieval ballads, we ask students to discuss current popular songs that feature the ballad format. And the book, published in 1997, suggested that one such current popular ballad the kids could relate to would be Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.”

    The first ballad I thought of was “No One Like You” by The Scorpions — and I was chastened to find that at oldielyrics.com.

    vrimj: The Rap Canterbury Tales are cool!

  30. Keith,

    I think Stretch makes the connection… it isn’t that our generation stinks as much as it is the most college-educated in history. I distinctly remember my college courses being massively easier than my high school honors courses, the exception being the courses in my college major which was of a science/technical nature. I can’t forget the day the light bulb clicked on for me: my college required taking one course from the Education department and after about one week I realized it was the most dim-witted, simplistic, waste of time I had ever spent in school (and that includes high school phys ed and shop classes) and then noticing all the well-meaning-but-protected-from-reality former high school cheerleaders in the class who were majoring in Education. I could tell that not one of these people had ever held a part-time job before, they just picked education as a major because it was easy work while looking for a husband and “I want to work with children!” sounded so noble. And the few males who also majored in education were arrogant pricks who wanted an easier major than pre-law. Most of these people wouldn’t have been in college if not for the EZ credit terms for college loans and all the other programs designed to put higher education within everyone’s reach. The problem is people are the same every generation – a certain percentage have some sort of occupational aspiration or intellectual curiosity and those people have always found a way to get their higher education without all the additional government help. All the increased access to funds has done is open up college to more people who really have little interest in higher learning beyond getting an easy degree.

  31. Hakluyt–

    Unfortunately, no. At my school, you had a full nine-month school year to cover the 200 years of American literary history, but the 1,400 years of British history had to be covered in 18 weeks. Didn’t leave much time.

  32. Basically, Hakluyt, for all my efforts, my British lessons were along the lines of “Byron had a clubfoot and his girlfriend walked in beauty. Coleridge demonstrated that having an albatross around your neck sucks. Swinburne never existed but if he did you shouldn’t read him because he’s naughty. World War One pissed off a lot of the folks who had to fight in it.”

  33. Jennifer,

    That’s pretty sad.

    So were you able to cover the Gawain poet and such?

  34. “…possibly the only current or former high-school teacher in the past thirty years who actually had students say things like ‘This Chaucer guy is cool!'”

    No doubt one of the few, but my 12th grade English teacher had us read most of the Tales — unedited and full of fart jokes — and I, at least, thoroughly enjoyed them, so much so that I took a Chaucer course (in the original Middle English) in college. That teacher performed an invaluable service, and I’m grateful to her.

  35. Hakluyt-

    About ten stanzas of Gawain were in the textbook, and a crummy translation at that. I at least gave my students excerpts from the Tolkien translation. No time to mention Pearl or Sir Orfeo.

  36. I am constantly amazed at how fast things have gone down hill. I went to an average public high school in the mid 1980s. I read Twain and Steinbeck, and Shakespeare all their abridged form. My history courses were not great but they were not bad. My nephew is now in high school and it is appalling. He hasn’t read line of Shakespeare. His history text book is the worst. It literally has two paragraphs on the civil war itself. It never mentions the Lincoln Douglas debates. There is a little over a paragraph on the Second World War, virtually nothing about the First World War and an unbelievably one sided cartoon version of Vietnam. The book is so concerned with putting in the contributions of every single ethnic or oppressed group one can think of no matter how small that it no space left over for the general narrative. This combined with the fact that it has to have more pictures than text makes it worse than useless. It might not be so bad if the book wasn’t combined with typical high school history teacher (a football coach moonlighting as a teacher). We are producing a generation of thoroughly ignorant children.

    I am not teacher so I do not know what goes through their heads. I would hope that most of them are appalled and do their best to teach despite the terrible state of textbooks. Someone is writing the text books, however and they must teach this way is a good idea. My suspicion is that the root of the problem lies in the education departments of our universities. If there is a more anti-intellectual, scary, 21st Century PC group of people than education profs, I would like to know who they are.

  37. I mean unabridged form.

  38. Somewhat relevant to the textbook discussion: In 8th grade English, we used a farily small volume called Wariner’s. It contained all anyone needed to know about grammar, and even had several chapters on the lost art of diagraming sentences. I remember a conversation with my teacher in which she lamented that Wariner’s was the last decent English textbook on the market.

    A decade or so later, I was teaching a class in a pulic school and found myself trying to explain to a student why what he had written was not a sentence, since it did not have a verb. I told him to diagram the sentence and he looked at me as if I’d asked him to write an essay in cuniform.

  39. BTW, did you discuss with your students Chaucer’s life as a spy?

    I did not know that. I’ll have to look into that.

    “May I help you, Mister …?”

    “Chaucer. Geoffrey Chaucer.
    Can you aid me in what I’m aughter?”

    “I’m Plenty.”

    “O my maid, I am sure you are!
    ‘Less you deceive with Wonder Brar.”

    “Plenty O’Toole.”

    “‘Tis a jeste that should be well stretched out!
    Named aughter your father, no doubt?”

    Sean Connery is Geoffrey Chaucer in You Only Get Tale Twice’t.

  40. Good Lord. After reading this thread, I’m glad my parents tortured me by packing me off to a foreign boarding school. I remember sweating through Latin, every English and Greek playwright who ever existed before the 20th Century, trigonometry, and a fair amount of truly life-threatening chemistry. Then in the afternoon….

  41. “If there is a more anti-intellectual, scary, 21st Century PC group of people than education profs, I would like to know who they are.”

    creationists?

  42. Warriner’s is a fine grammar textbook and it’s still the most widely used one in U.S. schools, mainly because districts don’t want to purchase new books and the subject doesn’t date quite as quickly as history. Truly, most schools are lucky to get new textbooks every twenty years.

    When I taught Shakespeare, I was saddened that the kids would laugh at “What ho!” but completely miss the sexual innuendo in something like Mercutio saying, “the bawdy hand of the
    dial is now upon the prick of noon.”

  43. In VA, teachers have to formulate their lesson plans to cover specific topics on which their students will later be tested. These Standard of Learning (SOL) tests are not well liked, and in some cases, my teachers expressed their frustration and dislike aloud in class. Several of my teachers complained that the strict specifications of the SOL testing didn’t allow them to cover topics they had covered in the past, topics that they thought were important, especially in history and literature. Regulation is good to a certain degree, and in some cases, intervention is necessary in order to make sure that time is being well-spent and kids are learning what they need to be learning. However, is it possible that we are reaching a point of over-regulation? Kids are now being fed excerpts instead of being guided through whole works, and all for the sake of a schedule. Something about that doesn’t seem right to me.

  44. A few years back I was allowed $100,000 to buy books for my English department. With a universe of choices before me, I received the dismal news that the district required a “comprehensive” textbook for every student in the building. This policy was a triumph of textbook publishers’ lobbying efforts, no doubt. Now these textbooks gather dust in teachers’ cabinets, because, I’m happy to say, nearly all of our English teachers ignore them. Unfortunately, that wasted money means we spend each semester scrounging to buy novels and short story anthologies. (You know, books that look like books rather than eight-pound Powerpoint presentations.)

  45. A minor point, but attributing the supposed increase in back injuries among children to the enormous textbooks they lug around in their backpacks is questionable. According to Pediatrics, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data on backpack injuries reveals very few injuries to the back caused by wearing a backpack (6%).

  46. Someone above posted that complaints about “what kids aren’t learning nowadays” is a standard intergenerational complaint, but I have to wonder:

    Is it a standard complaint because each generation falsely thinks the generation after it is headed to hell in a handbasket, or is it a standard complaint because things really HAVE been getting worse with every generation for long enough that it is now a cliche?

    Sometimes I think it’s the former, but I have to be honest – sometimes I think it’s the latter.

    I can’t really speak to English literature, but I will say that I have a bad habit of going to used book sales to collect books published before 1920. When you pick up a history textbook published at that time, it’s absolutely striking. Despite the fact that the state of historical and archaeological research has dramatically improved in the last century, and “antique” history texts are full of obvious errors as a result, there is STILL more useful information in the average ten pages of these texts than in entire books published now.

    There is no way to examine these books and not conclude that the average high school student back then was expected to learn more than the average college student now. “Kids nowadays are dumb” doesn’t look like crotchedly malarkey when you leaf through a copy of West’s ANCIENT WORLD or his EARLY PROGRESS.

    Frankly, you are even better prepared to think about “multicultural” history by these texts, despite their pervasive Eurocentric and pro-Christianity “bias”.

  47. fluffy, perhaps that can be understood when you consider that in the old days, even public school was something of a luxury. Two of my grandparents only had formal education until the eighth grade.. and the other two until tenth (the first two years of high school were free, but the junior/senior years required tuition).

  48. Steven:

    I’ve considered that possibility: that education at the secondary level was available only to an elite, and as a result it was possible to make greater intellectual demands on that elite.

    The problem is that that theory is almost as depressing. If true, it would mean that when we attempted to make secondary education available to everyone, we ended up destroying it instead.

  49. about a quarter of the textbook questions on the subject required the students to “compare and contrast” Henley and Thoreau

    So for Contemporary Studies, let us compare and contrast the Eagles and Limp Bizkit versions of “Life in the Fast Lane” and the Don Henley and Ataris versions of “Boys of Summer.”

  50. American history began with discovery and ended somewhere right around the election of Gerald Ford

    Must be an alternative history…

  51. Herman–

    The corporate version’s got me stumped. Best I can think of is It takes a village to be eminently domained to make room for a GM plant that’ll go bankrupt a few years later.

    But that isn’t very catchy.

  52. It takes a village of tax incentives to raise our profits

  53. Fluffy-

    I once asked the late Johana Harris that exact question. Her answer:

    “The world has always been going to hell in a handbasket. However, every age has its unique style.”

    I’m hopeful that only one generation of schoolchildren will be lost to PC, and that the excesses will be worn down, and the next generation will have a chance.

    I’m also hopeful that home schooled children will be better taught, and I’m hopeful that the Info-bahn will be used as an educational tool for those smart enough to figure things out for themselves.

    But there’s no question- the current public school system in the U.S. in many areas of the country is little more than daycare.

    -Natebrau

  54. “Imagine retelling The Odyssey in four minutes.”

    I’m quite fond of the Three Minute Hamlet.

  55. Taylor and Jennifer,
    The reason I brought up McGuffey Readers is that the one I have, the “6th Eclectic,” has lots of excerpts, but few over 3 pages. I was wondering if teachers thought that may have set a bad precedent for literature texts. This one is a reprint of a 1879 edition.

  56. School math textbooks teaching probability refer to dice as number cubes. They don’t want to imply that gambling is okay. They also eschew references to soda-pop, coffee, and tea because, you know, caffeine and sugar are evil.

    I recently wrote test preparation materials for two states’ standardized math tests. The state “standards” are a nightmare. One was for a state with a 90+% white population; 55% of the names used were required to be non-Caucasian. Never mind the fact that a huge proportion of “non-Caucasian” Americans have so-called Caucasian names.

    I much prefer working on college textbooks, especially physics, which still are full of non-PC topics.

    I don’t blame the publishers; they’re just trying to make a buck in an irrational, government corrupted market.

  57. Stevo Darkly,

    Well, Chaucer’s main occupation wasn’t as a writer. He was in fact for much of his life the, well, let’s call him the chief “regulator” of the English wool trade. He also went on some diplomatic missions for the crown and its during those missions he did a bit of spying.

    He’s also not the only English literary figure to do a bit of spying; for example, it is conjectured (due to some inferences taken from some enticing evidence) that Christopher Marlowe also did a bit of spying as well. More specifically that he was part of Sir Francis Walsingham’s famous network of spies. Think of Walsingham as the head of Elizabeth’s “CIA.” Walsingham’s group trained in “tradecraft”* and were very adept at infiltrating the European continental courts, power structures, etc.

    *They were quite good at cryptography, both in creating codes and breaking them. They also ran safe houses in France and Spain and did the sort of recruitment of agents one would expect out of a modern day case officer.

  58. He’s also not the only English literary figure to do a bit of spying…

    Hmmm…

    Well, if you really want to know about, I suppose I should start by telling you about my lousy childhood, and growing up and all, and the horrible incident that inspired me to join the CIA in the first place, and the fancy high-tech gear I use, and all that Tom Clancy kind of crap. But I don’t feel like going into it, to tell you the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me. And second, it’s Classified. Who the hell wants to go to prison for telling a lousy boring story? I don’t. Being a spy isn’t very exciting or glamorous like in the movies. Goddamn Hollywood. The goddamn movies. They’ll ruin you, I swear.

    One time I got captured by the other side. I forgot to tell you about that. They did this interrogation thing and all. Very big deal. They attached electrodes to my testicles and all. That hurt like hell. I didn’t feel any too gorgeous afterward, if you want to know the truth. Afterward they did this phony deal where one interrogator was the “good cop” and the other was the “bad cop.” Bad Cop sat and gave me the hairy eye, while Good Cop apologized like a madman for the way I’d been treated and offered me a cigarette and all. Strictly phony. You would’ve puked, I swear.

    Then they had this girl, Natasha, come in and tried to seduce me. She was pretty cute — I have to admit it. She even sat right down in my lap and started getting funny. You know — crude and all. But I didn’t talk.

    The thing is, if you talk, then you find out you miss everybody you encountered while spying. Now I miss the good cop guy and the bad cop guy, in a crumby way. I miss that old Natasha. I even kind of miss that crumby bastard who attached electrodes to my testicles and all.

    Never talk under interrogation. You always start missing everybody.

  59. Don’t forget Somerset Maugham in your list of spies.

  60. English classes aren’t the worst victim of textbookization. Much original literature is still read in English classes despite the existence of textbooks afterall.

    The social sciences have suffered far more in my opinion. Instead of reading the original works students are exposed to little snippets of ideas from here and there and this is almost universally the way the subject is taught (it is often this way at colleges as well). I suppose someone might imagine it’s more scientific somehow. It’s realy just dumbed down and out of context.

  61. i was fortunate enough to be educated overseas – still had to slog through crappo american textbooks, but by and large it was better than most of what you’d find in the states. (i still can’t read a poem without starting to break it down for textual analysis.) perhaps the biggest difference i discovered when coming to college was that in many american schools, senior year is essentially a vacation – i was worked like a dog until about two weeks before graduation.

    on the subject of those bawdy greeks – i remember a classics prof in college telling us that one reason the upper-class english fellows all learned greek and latin in the old days was because that’s where all the best smut was (even by modern standards, some of that stuff is remarkably filthy – carpet-humping-man would have been right at home.)

  62. Have I mentioned how much I thought school sucked?

  63. The book is so concerned with putting in the contributions of every single ethnic or oppressed group one can think of no matter how small that it no space left over for the general narrative.

    inevitably, in decaying societies (everyone yawn in unison), one of the major forces is proletarianization — every disaffected group becomes a model for mimesis in some measure, even by the dominant elite. george bush is a product of such mimesis, with his homespun white-trash affectation, just as was julius caesar.

    Is it a standard complaint because each generation falsely thinks the generation after it is headed to hell in a handbasket, or is it a standard complaint because things really HAVE been getting worse with every generation for long enough that it is now a cliche?

    another aspect of decline is this pervasive sense of drift and degeneration, which also gradually took hold in the hellenic world after the peloponnesian war. it is a response to actual problems, of course, but more to the inability to definitively solve those problems, which seem to arise again and again without resolution. the resulting restlessness is responsible for a lot of the overlawyering one sees. of course, it’s little help to proffer these well-meaning, technical, managerial assuagements without spiritually attacking root causes.

  64. Despite the fact that the state of historical and archaeological research has dramatically improved in the last century, and “antique” history texts are full of obvious errors as a result, there is STILL more useful information in the average ten pages of these texts than in entire books published now.

    I had quite a lot of fun reading HG Wells’ two-volume history of the world last year.

  65. So for Contemporary Studies, let us compare and contrast the Eagles and Limp Bizkit versions of “Life in the Fast Lane” and the Don Henley and Ataris versions of “Boys of Summer.”

    That shouldn’t be difficult — the answer is: they all suck.

    I loved that Caufield. Holden Caufield bit…classic.

  66. Everything is beautiful…
    (cue music)
    … in its own way.

    Textbooks and fartsacks, cabbages…

    Under God’s Heaven…

    Last post of evening…

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