Opening the American Mind

Reflections on the “Canon” Controversy

WILLIAM E. CAIN

What is the knowledge most worth having? Which books should students read and study in school? Do debates about the literary canon, and efforts to examine and expand it, suggest that Americans have lost respect for and faith in their cultural heritage? Teachers, administrators, and politicians have been fiercely arguing about and attempting to answer these questions, and do not seem close to a consensus. The questions are not entirely new, but they have gained special urgency in recent years, as the multicultural, multiethnic composition of American society has become increasingly clear, and as many panels and commissions have issued reports on the “crisis” of American ...

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