The Costs of Culture Wars: Curiosity at Risk. Deborah Appleman

In some ways, our culture is less tolerant and more fragile than it once was. The teaching of literature in schools and colleges is often caught in the crossfire of the culture wars. Support for canceling books and authors by the illiberal left and demands to ban books from the reactionary right have led to the removal of important literature from classrooms and libraries. 

In this episode author and literature professor, Deborah Appleman mounts a rousing case for teaching troubling texts in troubling times. "Our classrooms need to remain a space where critical thinking is taught, tolerance from different viewpoints is modeled, and the sometimes-harsh truth of our history and literary heritage are not hidden," she says. Her latest book is "Literature and The New Culture Wars."

Professor Appleman taught high school English for nine years before receiving her doctorate from the University of Minnesota. She is chair of Educational Studies at Carleton College. Her recent research has focused on teaching college-level language and literature courses to the incarcerated.

We discuss how free speech and free thinking are under assault from puritans from the right and the left. We examine the costs to curiosity as well as to open and free inquiry— so essential to a thriving democracy. We look at the impact of the recent global pandemic on teaching and education. 

"Life is tough. Life is hard and full of bumps and bruises,' Professor Appleman tells us. "You can't hide the hurt of life from young people. Literature is not life but it can be in some ways a preparation for what life has to offer us."

"Doing no harm does not mean causing no discomfort for students. Learning requires cognitive dissonance. Learning requires that you are off-balance both psychologically and emotionally sometimes....It's in disequilibrium that we learn."

Read more here from Pamela Paul of The New York Times. She wrote this year about the impact of book bans on the publishing industry: "Parents, schools and readers should demand access to all kinds of books, whether they personally approve of the content or not. For those on the illiberal left to conduct their own campaigns of censorship while bemoaning the book-burning impulses of the right is to violate the core tenets of liberalism. We’re better than this."

Recommendation: Richard has read "This Is Happiness" by Niall Williams and set in a remote village in Ireland. Richard calls the novel "enchanting and wonderful." 

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