How High The Bar

A brother of the Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum, before the order destroyed itself and it’s tradition of rigorous education by tolerating certain sinful proclivities among a tiny minority of its members (the same mistake the Boy Scouts just made), once told me a story.

The moral of which only gets more apparent, the older you get.

His was an English teacher, pounding away on his pupils year after year with Shakespeare, John Donne, Herman Melville, George Elliot and the like.  “But why” every class would sooner or later object “do we have to study these so-called great writers?  Can’t we just for once read something more fun and less difficult like Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye?”

His answer was always the same.  “We’re here for you to learn not be amused and besides we only have a limited time together.  Barely enough hours in the week to show you what the language is capable of and so inspire you in your own composition.”  

Isn’t that what education should be all about?  Teaching a child or an adult for that matter how high the bar is they may set for themselves?

And isn’t that what America is all about?  How high the human race can set the bar for itself?  That people can rule themselves if they want to?  Practice whatever religion they want to?.  Say whatever they want?  Get rich if they want to?  Run away and join the Indians if they want to?  Set all men free if they want to?  Go to the moon if they want to?

catherSo why we have to ask in the third century of this experiment which has changed the world we call America, have we decided, figuratively speaking, that the more moral choice is automatically the lower bar, automatically J.D.Salinger?  Instead of something to reach for.

Say like, Willa Cather reached for?

An American  woman who looks back at us over space of a hundred years, daring us to be as good in our own life’s work as she was in hers