Moral art and education.

To pick up on an issue raised by my thesis idea last night, and to spin off a quick comment made by Roger Scruton in my aesthetics class yesterday, did anyone else educated in Britain notice how all the literature we’re made to study in English lessons is moralised? By which I mean, all the novels we read have deep-running ethical undertones at minimum, and  most of the time their moral messages are open and obvious.

I only remember three, but they all support this theory. First, Macbeth. I remember the focus being the Lady’s inescapable sense of guilt for her role in the King’s murder. Then for my GCSE, I studied Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls. The first was dominated by discussions of the Great Depression and the broken American dream, and the second heavily honed in on the notion of social responsibility and the vices of capitalism. I also know my sister studied To Kill A Mockingbird, which speaks for itself.

Now, I obviously don’t object to the use of literature to spur the moral imagination. It’s a crucial part of encouraging empathy in young minds. But if this is driven by an intentional attempt to keep art glorifying evil out of the classrooms, then isn’t that more worrying? Why were the delights offered by the likes of Lolita lacking from my formal education? And how about at least including celebrated literature that depicts radical, liberal lifestyles? No On The Road, no Catcher in the Rye. (Correction: some people did read Catcher in the Rye.)

I certainly wouldn’t want to find out the latter two are excluded due to any bans on the positive depiction of ‘bad’ lifestyles. And the idea that children should be cut off from the joys of literature that rejoices in the dark side of humanity – a tradition stretching back to Baudelaire – seems equally judgemental and suspicious.

Perhaps I’ll look into this one. In the mean time, if you know more than me about the facts of the matter, please get in touch. I’m struggling to find the words to bring up fruitful results on Google.


2 thoughts on “Moral art and education.

  1. I studied all of those, plus ‘Death of a Salesman’, which is pretty clearly anti-capitalist. We also did ‘Catcher’, but I (and, as I remember, most of my friends) were pretty unsympathetic to Holden Caulfield, finding him whiny and irritating rather than subversive. We did ‘A Passage to India’, too, which is fairly morally ambiguous.

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