Thursday, October 13, 2011

Up for Debate

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik, discussing The Phantom Tollbooth on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, writes "As with every classic of children's literature, its real subject is education.  The distinctive quality of modern civilization is, after all, that children are subjected to year after year after year of schooling ."  He goes on to say that the child is presented with a choice between formal but worthless education versus meaningful self-education.  As examples he cites The Sword in the Stone, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Babar, and Mary Poppins

All I can say is, "Really?"  Or perhaps more honestly, "Huh?"  I haven't had enough time to think about the issue in depth, but his sweeping claims that the subject of every children's classic is education and that years of formal education are the distinguishing feature of modern society strikes me as... well, simply wrong or at least overreaching.  Perhaps it's based in a semantic disagreement over the term "education" but I'm not sure.

What about the more fundamental theme of good versus evil (Harry Potter, anyone)?  Despite its setting at a school I don't think I'd say its "real subject" is education.

What do you think?

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