Daily Archives: May 17, 2004

College Board and the Great Books

Found this link at The Rage Diaries.

Apparently the College Board (you know, the folks that gave us the SAT and ACT) has put together a list of 101 Great Books recommended to be read by those entering freshman year college. Well, it’s actually 101 novels, 19 miscellaneous (uncategorized and non-Fictional works), and various works by 15 identified poets.

On a whim, I evaluated my own performance, reading-wise:

Novels:   71 of 101 (70%)
Miscellaneous:   14 of 19 (74%)
Poetry:    11 of 15 (73%)

Now, as I recall, the 70% range is either a C or D. That’s not good. And even if any of the identified works I actually still own, 21 years out of high school, that still doesn’t put me on the College Board’s “Dean’s List”, does it?

But they have a short list (I guess, if you’re only going to read a LITTLE). On that one, I got 9 out of 10 (90%). A solid B, by my reckoning. Not much room for error on a 10 item quiz, is there?

Of course, there are many, many, MANY authors and poets not represented here that I consider essential reading. But this is the College Board, after all. You can’t expect them to be TOO avante garde, can you? Standardized reading lists and standardized tests go hand in hand. If you want to pass their tests, you have to read their books. Or pretend to have done so, or at least have slept with the Cliff Notes under your pillow.

But that brings up an important point. While a great many of these books I actually read in high school, I would not have had room to complete anywhere near the entire list considering my other reading. Who does the College Board suggest that I should have given up in order to accomplish their curricula? Allen Ginsberg? ee cummings? Krishnamurti? Julius Caesar? Ken Kesey? Rimbaud? Baudelaire? Henry Miller? And what if was more interested in reading “The Idiot” than “Crime and Punishment”? Do I get a point off for that one? It’s strange the authors they include, versus deliberately seem to exclude. Dickens is nowhere to be found. Jack London likewise. Ambrose Bierce — how would I have survived high school without the “Devil’s Dictionary” I ask you …

Fortunately, my reading requirements are not dictated by the College Board’s vision of an educated and well-read young person. But I worry about my step-daughter, who is a high school senior (almost) looking at colleges. I know for a fact that she’s not interested in reading most of this stuff. And neither are any of her friends. Sadly, reading is not one of her great pleasures. So it goes with this generation. I’m almost surprised that the College Board doesn’t require some kind of minimum television show exposure. That seems more appropriate.


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Sleep on, new world — your time is yet
to come; and in that pall of death, forget
what was, what is, or merely seems,
and build the future from your dreams.

Sleep on, mankind, rebuild your strength;
prostrate, laid on your bed full length,
dream of new heroes still unborn
in slumber’s womb yet safe and warm.

Sleep on, green growth, in winter’s hold;
for soon Spring comes to melt the cold
and bitter snow that buries deep
the germinating soul in sleep.

Sleep on, and dream of things to come,
and rest your weary, busied tongues
replete with words that bite and bruise.
When waking comes, they are no use.

Sleep on, new world, and wake evolved;
for weary, you’ll no problems solve
while you sit restless, bleary-eyed,
consuming yourself from inside.

Sleep on, sleep on in stupor’s gauze,
and from your labors, rest and pause;
the universe will still be here
when you awaken, fresh and clear.

Sleep on, mankind, and stay your hand
from constant schemes and endless plans;
and let what is, and was, and seems
emerge to clarify your dreams.

17 MAY 2004

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