Lads from Liverpool: “Serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain”
That’s what Philip Davis, a research professor, concludes after a study found the obvious, namely that reading literature stimulates the brain to think, reflect, and solve problems. And vacuum cleaner manuals do not.
The research was conducted at Liverpool University, and while I’m not sure whether it was a deliberate and direct response to the dumbest idea to come out of the U.S. Educational system since New Math, namely, the Common Core Standards Initiative, it sure does show the idiocy of people who call themselves educators but who will really shill for anyone who will fill their pockets.
The pocket-fillers in this case are David Coleman, who is the granddaddy behind these Core Standards, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates is the chap whose company is behind such products are Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP and since his abdication the even more-ill conceived Vista and the current fiasco Windows 8. Unable, after more than fifteen years of trying, to create a computer operating system that isn’t riddled with bugs, bloat, security vulnerabilities, and ridiculous “features” like balloons that pop up every few minutes to tell you you are connected to a network or you need to update your drivers, the Wizard of Bloatware is now turning his sites to educating the entire U.S. population.
It would be so funny if it were the punchline to a sitcom.
Bill and Melinda, by way of Dave, think that instead of reading Orwell and Melville and Shakespeare, kids should spend more time with “instructional manuals” to stimulate their practical side. Books that teach them useful skills, like how to install Microsoft software or, I kid you not, insulate a house. (This from the Core’s own suggested reading list.) That anyone who’s called an “educator” could advance this and be taken seriously is beyond belief. But Coleman defends his position by saying, “Forgive me for saying this so bluntly. The only problem with [personal narrative] writing is, as you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a[expletive] about what you feel or what you think.” (Side note: He thinks this is a good thing? I agree there are more and more places where no one gives a bleep what you think. I thought the USA was all about fighting this sort of ignorance.)
He and others like him maintain that non-fiction gives students the ability to digest and analyze complex information. Literature is just girly stuff, I suppose. You can just watch Downton Abbey on public television. At least, you can until the government shreds that.
Well, the folks in Liverpool disagree that it’s nothing but naval-gazing. They’ve found that the very areas of your brain these Core Curriculum people want to stimulate are energized with the Bard and the Woolf. And lots of other people Mr. Coleman finds non-relevant in this hut-hut-hut world.
An article on the study explains:
Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read works by William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and others.
They then “translated” the texts into more “straightforward”, modern language and again monitored the readers’ brains as they read the words.
Scans showed that the more “challenging” prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions.
Scientists were able to study the brain activity as it responded to each word and record how it “lit up” as the readers encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure.
Self-help, and presumably other instructional books, didn’t have the same effect, the study found. I’m shocked, as Claude Rains says in Casablanca.
As for me, I think this is just another in a long line of excellent arguments for home-schooling.
I’d love to send a copy of this study to Mr. Coleman, but I’m sure he doesn’t read. And doesn’t care that he doesn’t read.
If you’re an indolent latte-slurping hippie who does, the entire article can be found here.
Another excellent article is here.