The Leaden-Eyed Children of Education Reform

MoralStoriesby FJ Rocca9/20/15
There is a poem by Vachel Lindsay, called the Leaden-Eyed, which goes as follows:

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are oxlike, limp and leaden-eyed.
Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

Many interpretations of this poem are possible, but one stands out for me: that if the young are not shown the possibility and even the probability of their lives’ fulfillment, they are, as another famous American, Henry David Thoreau, put it, doomed to live lives of quiet desperation.

What is the source of the inspiration the young so deeply need? Of course, it is in education. But what about education is it that inspires? Most of all, it is literature. People learn through narrative. Notwithstanding the assault on literature launched by the proponents of Common Core, the study of great literary works, of narrative fiction and nonfiction, drama and poetry, are not just a part of, but central to, the education essential to the development of children’s minds.

The most efficient and effective vehicle for teaching the lessons of life, of the spirit and of philosophic reality, are variously described as the parable, the anecdote, the fable, the myth and the legend. Imbued with the reality that underlies the story—often a morality tale—the fable, for example, contains elements of the real world to drive the core lesson home, while couching that moral in the cloak of fiction.

In this way, the novel is the most sophisticated extrapolation of the fairy tale—or rather, it can be. Of course, the verismo “slice of life” tale, replete with negative elements that do not resolve by story’s end, that do not hold out hope of change against the vagaries of bad elements, under the guise of “realism,” are equally effective examples of what not to do, how not to live and what not to wish for. The lessons in them are negative.

In his short, telling book, Toward a Moral Fiction, the writer and well-known literary methodologist, John Gardner, insisted that good literature must always have as its core a moral perspective in which good and evil are juxtaposed against each other so that they are clearly distinguished, because the purpose of fiction is to help clarify for readers what is good in life and what is bad, what makes life worth living and what to avoid like the plague. When this element is not present, as in a technical manual, or when it is perverted so that the bad replaces the good, for example, in literature that celebrates drug addiction, perverse sex and repulsive behavior, the example that is learned is at best uninspiring or at worse inspires the wrong values. It does not present an example to live by.

Does this mean a piece of literature cannot be tragic, or that it cannot contain negative elements that describe reality? Of course not, but in good literature right and wrong are clearly identified. Right is good and wrong is bad. No rational person would think that what Iago does is good. It may question what motivates Othello, and draw parallels between his act and Iago’s intentions. But that is the purpose of great literature, that very question which inspires one to find truth. Inspiration, in fact, is the great gift of great literature.

Most often, in good literature, right triumphs over wrong, good beats bad and what ought to be is shown in clear distinction against what ought not to be. Any curriculum that poses wrong over right or that blurs the difference, under the guise of “realism,” is defective and ought not to be taught to children in schools.

There is no other way to put it. If we deny our children the wonders of poetry, short stories and novels that extol the great virtues and heroic exploits of figures of history and fiction, where will that inspiration come from? Will it, can it, come from reading technical manuals? Is there anything to learn from studying the procedures for operating a wireless router that has anything to do with building character, as compared to reading “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

Reading technical manuals, as prescribed by Common Core, gives our children no nourishment of the spirit; while books like “Dreaming in Cuban” and “Persepolis” teach no clear lesson that places good behavior above bad. When we replace Shakespeare, Dickens and Poe with such reading, we do not feed our children good literature, but defective pap that may poison their minds.

FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is • (3070 views)

FJ Rocca

About FJ Rocca

FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Leaden-Eyed Children of Education Reform

  1. Rosalys says:

    Our “Ruling Class” doesn’t want an educated population, as our forefathers did. They want an ignorant and hopefully compliant one that can be easily led around by the nose, taught to do the mindless and menial tasks, be grateful for the crumbs that are tossed in their direction, and lack the wherewithal to improve their situation. Hopefully they will not even understand the possibility of improving their situation, beyond groveling subserviently at the feet of their “betters.”

    This next generation is being trained to be a slave population. I will no longer give the current powers that be the benefit of the doubt, that they mean well. They don’t. They are arrogant, selfish, and malicious, and they can’t stand to leave anyone alone; to see that anyone can go about their own lives without the profound benefit of the “wisdom” spewing forth from the throne of the contemporary gods (themselves,) believing they have won the game of King of the Mountain against God.


    ” Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Great literature is part of that which creates and reinforces our common culture. It starts with language and goes on to moral instruction and critical thinking.

    Of course the Leftists, One World Types do not wish to re-enforce anything which binds people to higher beliefs and morals. A router is value neutral and does not present the problem of having to make a moral judgment about anything. Such things are only concerned with “efficiency”. And the pursuit of efficiency has often been used in a way to fool people into thinking that the solution to many major problems is only a matter of figuring out the “correct” way to address and correct things from an administrative or technological point of view. In doing so, the technocrats and others have done their best to erase moral judgments from our culture i.e. kill our traditional culture.

    • Bell Phillips says:

      Since you brought it up –

      There are some life lessons from a router manual. The first is objective truth. If you follow the directions in the manual, the router does what it’s supposed to or it doesn’t. If someone argues the point, then one of you is wrong. There is no other version of the “truth”.

      You learn about mistakes. Sometimes the manual is wrong because the manual writer or router designer made a mistake.

      You probably also read the sales brochure for the router, so you learn about lying.

      People who spend their time reading router manuals probably also read other technical stuff. You learn the important engineering (and life) axiom that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Perhaps you can improve the efficiency of a process by raising the temperature, but that reduces the useful life of the equipment.

      Mostly, you learn to question. You learn to say “that doesn’t sound right” and then follow up. There are two different outcomes to doing this – either you find someone else was wrong, or you learn a new fact. Applicable to real life too.

      Yes, there are downsides to the blind pursuit of efficiency, but there are equal dangers to a less analytical approach. I want everyone on earth to have the best health care science can provide regardless of their income – but then reality creeps up. You can ignore reality, or you can find a way to deal with it.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The historian Friedrich Meinecke, in his analysis of Nazism (The German Catastrophe, which I had in one of my German history courses in college), had a chapter contrasting “Homo sapiens” with “Homo faber”. His suggestion was that engineering types without an intellectual system would be vulnerable to such movements — though one must note that there were plenty of intellectual Nazis, especially in the SD.

        • Bell Phillips says:

          Homo faber – I’ve learned something today. Thanks.

          A society where everyone was exactly like me would be a horrible, horrible place. A society where no one was like me would live in caves. I’m just bitterly resentful of being a square peg hammered into a round hole for all of my formal education.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    In 1776 it was not uncommon for average joe six pack to be able to discuss Locke, Adams, and Montesquieu. Edmond Burke commented to Parliament that Americans were the best read of the entire empire. English booksellers sold more books to the colonies than anywhere else. One hundred years later Tocqueville and Darwin were widely read and commented on the general populace. Today, the Kardashians have been on TV for 10 years. No other comment is necessary.

  4. Bell Phillips says:

    Gotta disagree big time here.

    I’ve got more books than anybody I know. I had some major personal setbacks a few years ago, where I lost about half of my books and all but a few of the rest were packed up in boxes and put in storage. Before that – I think it might have taken 200 linear feet of shelves to hold them all. And they aren’t just sitting there – I read them.

    The number of fiction books fit in a shoebox with room to spare. And that shoe box contains 90% of the fiction that I’ve actually enjoyed reading. It contains the Hitchhikers guide series and 1984. 1984 will soon be moved to the nonfiction section.

    I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a good story now and again. I watch way more TV than I should, and have certainly enjoyed a lot of movies in years past. Even a few I now have to watch alone because I recite the dialog. But it’s all just entertainment. It’s fun while it lasts, but almost never inspiring.

    What is inspiring to me are all of the *technical manuals* I have. My life has been defined by an insaturable desire to understand how everything around me works. It has served me very well as an engineer. My peers look up to me and I’m the go to guy when we want to do something we’ve never undertaken before.

    My life has been something of a disappointment to me, as a big fish in a small pond. I didn’t send a rocket to the moon, build the hoover dam or a nuclear reactor. My accomplishments have been pretty mundane. But the guys who did build those rockets, dams, and reactors weren’t inspired by Shakespeare. They were inspired by asking how? and why? at every moment of their lives and then finding the answers. Usually in books.

    The best engineers I’ve met don’t turn off their curiosity when they go home. It’s their life. Maybe they work with electronics all day, but they go home and mix chemicals or look through telescopes – or quite often, work on more electronics. Usually all three.

    They don’t, as a rule, get their inspiration from Dickens. Most tolerated what they had to do to get through school. I didn’t. I was something of a math prodigy, but flunked English. I was sick every morning until after English class. I missed a lot of school. I ended up seeing a psychiatrist to get through college English. I know I’m the exception, but Chaucer certainly did far more harm than good for me.

    My point is that, while I wholeheartedly agree that children (and adults) need inspiration, literary fiction is not the only way to go. Often, it’s the wrong way to go. Reading is THE single most important skill to learn in school because everything else – math, science, history – everything follows from it. Turning a kid off from reading is the most academically damaging thing that can be done.

    Children should be offered a taste of everything – then let them find what inspires them. Force-feeding should only be a last resort for intellectual starvation. And there is a difference between skinny and starving – a large number of people would be far better served by a solid 6th grade education than a high school diploma of spirit crushing resentment or a masters in bovine excrement.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And they aren’t just sitting there – I read them.

      Glad to meet a fellow book reader.

      My accomplishments have been pretty mundane. But the guys who did build those rockets, dams, and reactors weren’t inspired by Shakespeare. They were inspired by asking how? and why? at every moment of their lives and then finding the answers. Usually in books.

      I think it’s been the general shtick of a “classical liberal education” to include the arts and sciences together, not over/against each other. One need only look to the monstrous architectural styles infecting England (and many other places) to see how the artist and sciences can connect.

      Sort of like Einstein said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Substitute “art” for religion and I think that still works.

      The perfectly “rational” architecture of dams, office building, homes, or whatever was reflected in the various dull cold grey concrete monstrosities of the Soviet Union. I wouldn’t want someone to attempt building something in public of any size without having first reading Dickens, or at least having had some kind of a well-rounded classical education. It is the soulless, artless man who today is the bane of civilization.

    • Anniel says:

      Hi bell, I would like to say that Common Core Education not only fails to teach reading, but the reading they force children to endure consists almost exclusively of reports and statistics and dull crap, even in the very early grades. The schools are academically damaging children, allowing them no imaginative spirit of any sort. I watch what my grandchildren have been taught and am appalled by how stultifying it can be.

      Making good books of any sort inaccessible to children is a form of book burning, and people who burn books always seem to wind up burning people.

      A couple of my boys were like you, always turning to “technical manuals”, but when I read aloud to them they loved it, even if it was something as nonsensical as “Just So Stories” or “Custard the Dragon.” My youngest son was 11 and his sister was 5 going on 40, when I read all of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” to them. Today I’m told we’re being “Unfair” because other kids don’t get read to. Gadzooks, there are total fools out there who prevent kids from learning anything.

      You sound like you do well with what you love. I’m glad you are not one of the “Leaden Eyed” ones.

      • Bell Phillips says:

        I was thinking about your son when I posted and hoped you’d be along to say something.

        Common core does sound pretty horrible, but I don’t have kids, so no direct experience with it. I suspect the “reports and statistics and dull crap” they actually assign is pretty uninspiring even to someone like me who sits around reading the almanac.

        • Anniel says:

          My son has been reading all of the books by the author Avi to his two youngest children and he is almost overwhelmed with their responses to the books. I love to hear about them.

          But my older daughter has a 10 year old whose reading of choice has turned out to be Guiness’ Books of World Records of all things. He’ll listen to other things, sort of, but as soon as the chance occurs, back to the Guiness he goes.

          BTW, my oldest son and his family are in the process of returning to the U.S. He’ll still have to travel a lot but his wife never really liked living in Germany. His 16 year old daughter says that at least the German schools saved her from Middle School in the U.S. Can’t imagine why she’d be happy about that.

  5. FJ — Wonderful essay. You are so right. The Lindsey poem is one of my favorites. I spent many years choreographing and directing high school musicals and dance concerts, and this poem is what kept me going; it was may way of seeing to it that kids had the opportunity to “do quaint things and fully flaunt their pride.” That is an essential part of growing into their place in the world.

    Also as a retired high school English teacher I can testify to the vitamin content of world class literature. But because the best is usually challenging, the best is often not taught, at least not with any degree of passion and wisdom. Kids grow up thinking that poetry is always “wafty and effeminate” and fiction is just fluff. But when we give them something to really chew on, miracles happen.

    And to spin off of Rosie’s closing volley allow me to fervently hope that Common Core and its ilk will die a rapid and fiery death.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *