Since when did cultural products become "by-products"?
When beer became a by-product at Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Molson,
Labatt and Miller, beer culture suffered a huge setback. The very word
"by-product" implies a product, a centre, elsewhere.
Critics of common culture often refer to a canon that I've never seen or
had to study -- some homegenous list of books by the dreaded white
men, or worse, "white middle-class men" (worse yet again, apparently, if
men are dead). In other words, they set up a straw man -- canonical
tyranny -- which doesn't exist.
1. How can we expect Canada to survive or thrive (indeed, how can
we expect any polity to survive or thrive) without some common culture?
My idea of citizenship includes active political participation by the
broadest range of people. Participation requires common reference
points, to name but two: a legal framework, and some aspects of
culture, including, but not limited to, aspects of language, mythology,
history, and the arts. The question -- especially in Canada -- is not do
we want canonical tyranny on the one hand or anarchy on the other, the
question is how do we build on the tenuous common culture that we
have? The same question persists at every level: if Canada breaks up,
the same question will face Quebec, and/or the Cree in the north of
Quebec, and/or people in What Used to be the Rest of Canada .
In other words it's not good enough to say that the notion of common
culture is problematic. Of course it is. Let's role up our sleeves and
discuss in good will what the common cultures of our various
communities are and might be.
Incidentally, I think Anthony's fear that a Zairian immigrant might be forced
to study In Flander's Fields is misplaced. All the immigrants I know crave
Canadian culture and are the most enthusistic of Canadians. Attend a
citizenship court sometime to observe some extraordinary patriotism
(sorry if patriotism is a dirty word). A family of Chilean immigrants I know
think that Canada is far too hung up about the sensitivities of its
immigrants. "This is a great country! Celebrate it! I want to be a
Canadian and I want my two kids to be super Canadians" my friend
2. Part of my original Globe letter was motivated by the fact that neither
of my kids, in grades nine and grade five, had ever been asked by a
teacher to memorize a poem. I guess when I was young, I never fell on
my knees in gratitude for having to memorize another poem, but as an
adult, I'm glad that I was required to. I still remember much of the poetry
that I memorized, and on purely aesthetic grounds alone, I think
memorization can help people appreciate meter and cadence and diction
and resonance. I think it helps you to understand a poem at a deeper
level, and I think it helps us appreciate the oral side of poetry.
I'm not sure if any one saw the replies to my letter, but virutally all of them
were from people saying how important the memorization of poetry had
been to their subsequent intellect and appreciation of literature.
My real interest here is not narrowly on the memorization of poetry, but
on a larger subject. I believe that "enabling" pedagogy has gone far too
far in our schools. To generalize: too many teachers believe that you
don't need to "know that" anything; you just need to "know how" to look
I believe that studies of cognition show us that most people in most
situations develop expertise not primarily (or superordinately) by learning
how, by learning process, by learning metastrategy, but by mastering a
huge domain of content.
I don't want my kids to be able to find the capitals of the Canadian
provinces in an atlas; I want them to know the capitals. I want them to
know many facts, precepts, principles, names, elements, structures, etc.
I would think that most people would agree that one purpose of school is
to help students to know that something. The question then becomes:
what somethings do we want students / citizens to know? Might some
poetry be one of those somethings?
3. Anthony seems to be upset by being forced / required to do some
things in primary and secondary school. What's wrong with being
forced to learn something? I've been forced to learn lots of stuff, much
of it useful, much of it pleasing but not useful, much of it not pleasing and
not useful to date. I wasn't crazy about the valence table, but I'm sure
glad I learned it. As Anthony says, there's a pedagogical question here.
As one gets older, one gets more choice, or at least forms of choice.
Which brings me back. If the syllabus in primary school is largely a
matter not of student choice, but of parent / syllabus designer / citizen
choice, then isn't it possibly useful for my kids to know some of the same
literature that kids in, say, Nova Scotia know? If they don't have some
common cultural rererence points, how are they going to discuss
common problems as adults?