Ah, to know the mind of Aristotle, the man whom Dante called “the teacher of those who know.” How magnificent to commune with the intellect of Plato, of whom Alfred North Whitehead dared to say: “the European philosophical tradition consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Many other ancient writers by their enduring works have bequeathed to us the gift of remarkable clarity on our unchanging human nature, a clarity which is conspicuously absent from most of the literature churned out in this Dark Age.
Contrast the lasting classics of the Great Western Tradition with the divergent and self-conscious works propagated by the architects of the Culture of Death and it is like comparing high noon in Hawaii to a sand storm in the Sahara. Such is the debris of self-deceit that plagues our age, so thick and turbulent, that we can only hear our children choking on it if by some grace we are not choking ourselves.
Yet, even the clarity of the ancient Greeks is like “looking through a glass darkly” when compared to the light shed by the inspired authors of the Bible. My friend, a Christian university literature professor says “the ancient Pagans’ knowledge is like a candle while the revelation of Christ is like the sun.” That would make the secular prophets of our age the bearers of darkness.
The Prophet Isaiah succinctly reveals a fallen human proclivity that is exaggerated in modernity. He tells us in chapter 5:20 “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness…” Misunderstanding the nature of language and the mystery of creation, we arrogate to ourselves the power to call things what we want instead of what they are. The inversion of morality Isaiah warns about is almost complete in the public schools.
Student text books alone provide enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that things human and moral have been badly corrupted by public education and her minions. What passes for literature in the textbooks is a mirror of the disintegration of our social fabric. The tattered remnants retain only loose threads of our Great Western Civilization and even those have lost their coherence. In short, the stories in the student literature book are trash.
Just like beautiful eyes ripped from their sockets, the integral truth suffers gruesomely when detached from its proper context. This is the art of defamation. Isolated and out of context, referring to the literature book as “trash” sounds severe and even inappropriate. It ought to be said because it is true. Put the statement in the context of the title of this essay, add a clear exposition of the attributes of a good piece of literature, compare any of its stories to a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale and it is a verifiable truth. Even the Emperor’s attendants would blush.
My colleagues know my mind on this. Their sanguine advice is “If you enthusiastically pretend you love the stories the students will really get into them.” But when I ask my colleagues to name one story in the literature book they would read to their own children, the unanimous answer is “there isn’t one.” Contrary to my colleagues’ calculating advice, we are obligated by principle to expose the intrinsically flawed nature of appalling writing, not to falsely sell it. The millstone is reminder enough that keeping a job is not worth deceiving children.
Countless works throughout the ages have attempted to plumb the depths of the mysteries surrounding the attributes of good literature. A basic list of attributes would include at the very least, elevated language, universal themes, compelling characters and a plot worthy of consideration. In his essay “On Stories,” C.S. Lewis tells us that, “a story is only a net with which we try to catch something else, something timeless.” A part of that something timeless would be the eternal and unchanging truths of the universal themes that lead us to a deeper understanding of who we are, why we are here and how we ought to live.
Good stories are multivalent and are meant to be understood on many levels. On the surface there is the literal meaning of a story. A little deeper there is the allegorical meaning. Deeper still is its moral significance. At its deepest level, the best stories allude to our ultimate end in eternal beatitude or hellfire. Good stories are edifying. Good stories foster our duty put forth by the Baltimore Catechism: to know, to love and to serve. Good stories allow a reader to grapple with the perpetual human questions about the proper moral order of good and evil. Good stories help a reader cultivate the desire to use the intellect, will and memory to strive for excellence embodied in objective truth, goodness and beauty. Good stories take us “there and back again.”
My school district has adopted a language arts program by McGraw Hill and the basal reader is called Treasures. Considering how poorly the stories are written, the alliterative and sardonic turn of phrase that trash and treasure afford is almost irresistible. This book is not a treasure but a collection of ideologically driven propaganda, disseminating distorted morality reflective of a flawed notion of human nature. The stories do not square with any conception of good literature or with the Law written on our hearts.
In general, the stories do not have a deeper meaning beyond the literal level. Most of them are diatribes undergirded by multiculturalism, corrupted tolerance, feminism, and egalitarianism. The stories engender at least six of the seven deadly sins particularly envy and pride. If these stories were held up to an objective standard, they would fall miserably short. In a less darkened age they would be seen for the wolves in sheep’s clothing they are.
There is a two page selection on Plato and Aristotle. Like a shadow on the cave wall, the editors project a close-up of Raphael’s School of Athens featuring the two great philosophers in the center. On the surface, hope is raised. Sadly, the editors did not deviate from their sociopolitical agenda. There are 350 words to sum up the no longer useful antique wisdom of the Ancient philosophers. Of Plato it is written “Plato believed that men and women should have an opportunity to get the same education…. Plato also felt that women should not be restricted to getting married and making a home. Men and women should be free to pursue or seek the same jobs.”
There is an award winning selection called “Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter.” An Orc is to an Elf as this story is to Grimm’s notable fairy tale. It has to be read to be believed. In defense of our children, this story merits an entire essay to spell out its intrinsic errors and malice. This is surely a mockery of Grimm’s tale, but there is nothing funny about the seriousness of its social themes. It is an egalitarian and feminist diatribe grounded in the Marxist material dialectic. It is smugly steeped in secular convention and stereotypes.
Rumplestilskin’s daughter catches the eye of the greedy and oppressive king. He takes her against her will. She outfoxes him and liberates the peasants from tyranny and poverty by manipulating the king into giving them his “ill-gotten” gold. At the end of the story when the king offers to marry Rumpelstiltskin’s daughter and make her the queen, she declines and says “why don’t you make me prime minister instead?” The king did so and “the people of the kingdom never went cold or hungry again.” We come to find her name is “Hope.”
Each story I read with my students from Treasures is a counter example of good literature. The public schools have carelessly abandoned true literature and tradition in the reckless utilitarian quest for progress and an illusory human perfection. The Treasures stories are “anti-stories.” As teachers and as Catholics we are duty bound to call things what they are. The stories in the Treasures book are an absurd misuse of language and unacceptable for human consumption, especially for our children. I have never been in favor of a book burning, but surely there is no more appropriate place for this book called Treasures to be, than in the trash.