Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cultural authenticity….wha?

Diane Ravitch thinks we’re missing something in America, and I think she’s right.

Ravitch is an historian of education and a high profile expert on education policy.

She’s also an authentic, reflective thinker and commentator on the American scene.

Almost 25 years ago she edited The American Reader: Words That Moved A Nation, showcasing the span of American wordsmiths from Ben Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanac) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“Paul Revere’s Ride”) to Walt Whitman (“O Captain! My Captain!”) to Jacob Riis (The Battle with the Slum) to Margaret Sanger (“The Right to One’s Body”) to Woody Guthrie  (“This Land Is Your Land”) to Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ in the Wind”) to Ronald Reagan (Speech at Moscow State University).

In the first revision of American Reader in 2000, Ravitch confessed that she had cut some original content from the 1970s and 1980s because the pieces didn’t “…match the literary quality of the earlier selections and [didn’t] resonate in the national consciousness…”

She explained:
“It seems to me…that cultural authenticity is harder to find than in the past…songs were once shared by children, parents, grandparents and entire communities…The popular songs of recent years have short lives; they were written mainly for teenagers, with lyrics that are neither important nor memorable...I am unable to identify any contemporary poems that are known and loved by large numbers of ordinary Americans…With few exceptions, the political speeches of the recent past seem to me to be singularly devoid of lasting significance…Our presidents in the closing decades of the twentieth century were known more for their slogans, sound ‘bites,’ and off-the-cuff remarks than for the kinds of speeches that once spoke directly to the American public’s hopes and concerns and resonated in its collective memory.
“In this age of instantaneous mass communications, words do not seem to be as precious as they once were.”(1)

Ouch. The shoe fits…but, let’s be candid, it pinches quite a bit.

(1) Diane Ravitch, The American Reader: Words That Moved A Nation (New York: Perennial/HarperCollinsPublishers, 2000), xviii-xix.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

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