Flannery O'Connor was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist, who wrote two novels and many short stories, as well as a number of reviews and essays. O'Connor's writing usually reflected her Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics. (As an aside, one of my personal favorites of her is A Good Man is Hard to Find.)
One of her many essays dealt with what was then the modern high school education. The quote that I came across that motivated this post is:
The proper business of the high school is “preparing foundations”; it is ABSOLUTELY NOT immersing young people in the already-too-familiar aesthetic tastes and moral realities of modernity; it is certainly not amusing them with exciting stories of sex and violence. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed."If she is right, then the last few generations have been formed without a foundation at all. There is a whole genre of literature now dealing with young adult fiction that caters to their tastes. While some of it I would argue has the ability to elevate, such as the Harry Potter series, much of it is largely soap opera drivel, such as the Twilight series.
While part of me agrees with her point, I also wonder how many more young adults readers there are now than in the 1960's when O'Connor wrote her essay. I think there is something to be said for developing a habit of reading, even if that habit is fed with low quality/high entertainment value literature at first. Eventually taste will improve, and if the student is of a humanities bent then higher education will point him to better forms of literature.
That said, at some point a firm foundation in the classics is truly invaluable. But I do wonder if it is harder to go backwards if your tastes have been formed on a diet of modern, largely empty fiction. Can you tell I am conflicted?