In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Mark Schatzker makes an observation that is at once obvious and seldom thought about: There is a natural connection between the good taste of food and its nutritional value.
Decades ago, most foods in stores were locally grown, left on the plant longer, and not only tasted better, but were better for you. The tomatoes you bought in the store twenty-five years ago tasted more like the ones you might grow in your garden today. And, along with being more delicious, store-bought natural foods of long ago were better for you. Today they are increasingly bland and lacking in nutrients.
Whereas before we ate the things that tasted good which also happened to be good for us, we now eat food that tastes good but that is not good for us.
Before the onset of artificial flavoring, good food tasted good, and bad food did not. But now, while food that should be good for us no longer tastes like it used to, we are able to make bad food taste good and so we eat more of it.
This is one of the factors in the rise of obesity: The connection between deliciousness and nutrition has been severed. We no longer know good food by its taste. Nutritionally bad food predominates, but we like it because it is more delicious than the formerly more nutritious foods we used to favor.
We have the same problem in education: There was once a connection between the joy of learning and good academics, but that link has been broken. The stories we once told children were good stories, stories they enjoyed reading. If you doubt this, go back and look at the books written for children and young people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Jacob Abbot, James Baldwin, Alfred J. Church, Padraic Colum, Edward Eggleston, as well as H. A. Guerber, Andrew Lang, Hamilton Wright Mabie, Charles Morris, Howard Pyle, and Eva March Tappan were not only good children’s writers, but their writings were good for children.
Through stories about Joseph and his brothers, the strength of Samson, and the visit of the Magi, children were not only entertained, but learned about the Bible. Through stories about the twelve labors of Hercules, King Alfred and the cakes, and Honest Abe, students not only were enchanted, but familiarized with history. Through stories about Icarus and Daedalus, Horatius at the Bridge, St. George and the dragon, and retellings of King Arthur, Roland, and the Trojan War, they became acquainted with the great stories of literature.
From stories like these, students learned not only what it was to be good, but what they might aspire to be.
The stories that once taught—and charmed—children have been largely removed from the menu of the modern curriculum, replaced by tasteless content written by anonymous authors with little that would nourish the soul. Under the banner of Common Core and under the guise of “college and career readiness,” narrative stories in general are being cut back in favor of bland “informational nonfiction.”
We have at once made education less delicious—and less nourishing. Not only that, but we have put artificial educational flavoring in young adult literature that has less nutritional value thanthe classical children’s literature and the great books students once read.
But the old stories are still available, many of them from Memoria Press, and they have not lost their power to inspire and instruct.
There is still a connection between what students enjoy and what they need—a natural connection that we would do well to remember.
Originally published in The Classical Teacher Late Summer 2015 edition.