INTRODUCTION: Louise Rosenblatt holds a unique position in the fields of Education and Literary Studies. She is the most widely cited authority of the leaders in the field who are presently engaged in the teaching of teachers of literature or in the researching of the teaching of literature. Her 1938 publication Literature as Exploration is still in print and is one of the most widely cited works of its type. In this and dozens of other publications such as The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work (1978), she outlines a theory of reading as a transactional process. According to her, the literary work "is not an object or an ideal entity. It happens during a coming together, a compentration, of a reader and a text. The reader brings to the text his past experience and present personality. Under the magnetism of the ordered symbols of the text, he marshals his own resources and crystallizes out from the stuff of memory, thought, and feeling a new order, a new experience, which he sees as the poem." (The Reader, the Text, the Poem, p.12). At the heart of Dr. Rosenblatt's theory…" is the idea of the poem as an event in the life of the reader, as a doing, a making, a combustion fed by the coming together of a particular personality and a particular text at a particular time (Literature,xvi). In 1992 her peers elected Louise to membership in the READING HALL OF FAME . In her dissertation on Rosenblatt's work as a scholar, Gladdys Westbrook Church has written that "Just as major aspects of the twentieth century have often been described according to Freudian, Jungian, Einsteinium or Vygotskian theories, a review of the literature reveals that Rosenblatt has been frequently cited as a similar authority in the teaching of literature". (Church, 1994, PP. 170-72)
The following interview was conducted as part of a doctoral seminar in Curriculum Theory and History under the supervision of Professor Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr. in the School of Education, University of Miami during the Spring of 1999. The interview project was headed by Philomena Marinaccio, who also wrote this introduction and formulated the final questions for this interview and the attached selected bibliography. Other students participating in this project include: Lydia Barza, Ellen Brown, Aubrey Campbell, Michelle Cash, Lina Chiappone, Elizabeth Cramer, Keith Grazziadei, and Stephanie King. The interview was conducted in the home of Professor Eugene Provenzo on March 14, 1999, in Coral Gables, Florida.
Beginning in 1996, Louise Rosenblatt began spending her winters at the University of Miami as a scholar in residence where she worked in the Department of English and later in the School of Education's Department of Teaching and Learning. We have the close friendship between Louise and Dr. Provenzo to thank for allowing this interview to happen.
Q.We wanted to start with your background. Are there any instances from your childhood that impacted your interest in reading and literature?
A. The answer of course is yes. Everything seemed to encourage my reading. I really didn't go to school until I was seven largely because my parents felt that schools were too regimented. My father had read various and sundry theories and he thought that children shouldn't be sent to school so early because they were being regimented too early. We were living at Atlantic City and I guess I spent most of my time at the beach. So I just enjoyed life. As somebody said, "You were gathering experiences that you could then bring to understand your reading". So I learned to read very fast or I taught myself before I came to school because in a week I was reading in the first grade. I came home about a week after I had started and I said "I can read" and my parents said "Oh, no". So they gave me something to read and I read it. I can't recall a time when I wasn't reading, from the age of seven on. I have an eleven year old granddaughter whose is a great reader also.
Q.Your graduate work included areas such as Anthropology and Comparative Literature. How has this interdisciplinary training influenced your work in literacy studies?
A. I had my B.A.with Honors in English from Barnard College, Columbia University. Then I went on and I had a year in France at the University of Grenoble where I was assimilating French. I took my doctorate in Comparative Literature at the Sorbonne (University of Paris) in 1931. By that time I was already teaching in the English Department at Barnard. When I was an undergraduate at Barnard in my sophomore year I roomed with Margaret Mead, a senior. She took a course in Anthropology which was practically a new science in those days. Franz Boas who was the professor of Anthropology in the graduate school at Columbia and also head of the Anthropology Department at Barnard College, the women's college. Margaret took that course and then decided that she was going to ultimately be an anthropologist. As you know, she became a very prominent one with a world-wide audience. I took Anthropology in my Junior year because Margaret had been enthusiastic about it. I also became very enthusiastic. I must say that everything in my own childhood had led me up to the point where I would be enthusiastic about the importance of the culture and of the environment in the development of individuals.
When I was a senior, although I had majored in English and had my honors in English, I was faced with a decision as to whether I should go on and do my graduate work in Anthropology or in Literature. The literature had always won out. I could have gone to Oxford for graduate work, but becauseof this anthropological interest I wanted the experience of another culture. That led me go to the University of Grenoble to have the experience of a foreign language and foreign culture.
By the time I got through with my work that year I had become interested in the idea of "art for art's sake." Some of the French writers like Flaubert, whom I admired very much, when they were criticized for the moral realism of their work, took the stand that they were just creating for art's sake and they did not accept any limitations on what they had to present. I was very sympathetic to the freedom of the artist but at the same time I did believe very much in the social role of art. I was very much interested in why these people took this position and that is the subject that I went up to Paris and prevailed on the professor of Comparative Literature to approve. I wanted to see what the relationship was between the French writers who took this position and the English writers who espoused it. It became a study of English/French literary relations. So you see the anthropological interest in another culture always has been in the background.
My dissertation (I had to write the book in French) was published in 1931. I ended my study by saying there would be tension between society and the artist so long as readers didn't understand what writers of literary works of art were doing. What an artist was trying to do was different. They needed to understand that if an artist presented an image of behavior it didn't mean he was saying that was the way that you ought to behave. He was trying to tell you that that's the way people behave. So I became interested in readers within this context so that both the literature and the anthropology coincided to create my interest in the teaching of literature and then ultimately in all kinds of reading, literary and otherwise. So that's how I came into literacy, and why although I have a doctorate in comparative literature, I came to reading theory.
Q.What major trends and philosophies have contributed to your theory of literacy?
A. I've become known as, you might say, a representative of the application of the pragmatist philosophy to esthetics. While I was teaching at Barnard at Columbia University in the thirties, although I never studied with him, John Dewey was still a professor of philosophy there. I did meet him and I ultimately became one of the early members of an organization called The Conference on Methods in Philosophy and the Sciences that he and other philosophers organized. In that organization I came into contact with Dewey, Horace Kallen and a number of the other leading philosophers and people in the social sciences and the humanities. The meetings dealt with problems of methodology in all of these areas. The work of Charles Sanders Peirce as well as John Dewey and William James has been particularly important to my theory.
Q.You state in your article The Transactional Theory of Reading and Writing (1965) that your theory of the reading process was based on extensive observations of problems that arose in the context of classrooms. What type of classroom interaction exemplified your experience as a researcher?
A. My teaching has always been in colleges and universities. I started out teaching courses in Introductory Literature and Composition as well assisting with a course on Chaucer. As I began my teaching at Barnard. What I came to realize was that the kind of training that I had received as an undergraduate and as a graduate student was all designed to prepare me to become a specialist in my field, concerned with the analysis and history of literature. I realized that in my classes most of the people were not going to be specialists in English. The question was rather, why should other people, who were not going to be specialists in English, why should they read literary works, why should they be prepared in the same way as the people who were going to be specialist. I felt that the needs of the general reader were not being thought of enough. All of the teaching was really based on what would be useful ultimately to specialists in the field. It was out of that thinking that I began observing the reading and I also developed the habit of interchange with my students. I was able to do that because the head of the department was interested--was favorable to it. So my research consisted in the observation of all of these different kinds of responses that the students were bringing and all of the different kinds of blind spots that they were bringing. I also became aware of the value of the interchanges, the extent to which they became aware of one another's ideas and found that other people didn't feel the same way that they did or had different standards or different moral attitudes. It was out of that context that ultimately I developed my particular approach to reading.
Q. Would you have classified this research as being qualitative rather than quantitative?
A. When you ask me that question, I think it's because even in the social sciences and humanities, research has usually been thought of as quantitative. Research in physics was setting the standard. In physics, you can delimit your problem so that you can regulate the factors involved. You can set the problem in terms that will enable you to measure things quantitatively. This Newtonian ideal of research dominated in Educational Psychology and English education when I started out, and it is still very powerful. Anything that seemed to be personal judgment, or subjective, was frowned upon, rejected. The need for quantitative measurability and the tendency to think decontextually about the reader and the text as abstract, static, had, I believe, an unfortunate effect on testing and teaching. (This research design is still useful, but the limitations on interpretation of the findings should be understood.)
But post-Einsteinian physics was gradually introducing alternative ways of thinking about our observation of and our knowledge about the world. The philosophers I was associated with were adopting the ways of thinking about our knowledge of the world that I have discussed as transactional. In the first book in English that I published in 1938, Literature as Exploration, I start out by saying that when people talk about the reader and the text those are abstractions; they are fictions. Actually, there are no generic readers, there is no such thing as a generic reader or a generic text. There are only the individual readers encountering an individual text, at a particular moment in a particular situation or context. That event becomes the thing that has to be recognized and has to be studied. If we are going to have a really effective literary education, it ought to start with our understanding that.
My quantitative justification was simply that I had been teaching for ten years and these were ten years of disciplined observation. It was, I suppose, more--what nowadays is a fashionable name--ethnographic. Also, recall that I was presenting a theory, which has to be tested against people's own experience and further systematic testing. This probably will combine qualitative and quantitative methods.
Q. You have described your main theory of reading as "transactional." In the field, people frequently refer to it as "reader-response." Why do you prefer the use of the term "transactional/transaction"?
A. My assumptions behind "interaction" versus "transaction" gets us into the whole philosophic background of this quantitative/qualitative shift. You see, Newton's theories and way of approaching research were very useful. No one denies the importance of the work in Physics that was done under the Newtonian idea which used the term "interaction." But in that kind of approach everything can be pre-defined. Einstein brought in a whole different way of looking at the world. (Trying to be quick about this, I hope I won't say things about science that are not properly phrased.) It was no longer a matter of being able simply to define ahead of time what was being studied, because ultimately everything depended on the observer or the method of observation. In subatomic research, either you can look at matter and see it as a particle, or you can look at it and see it as a wave, but always there is the fact that the observer has chosen a particular way of observing, so that the observer is always part of the observation.
John Dewey and Arthur F. Bentley said that the notion of "interaction" was perfectly good, and still is good, for particular purposes, but we need a new term, "transaction," for the relationship that exists between the human organism and the world.
When I read Dewey and Bentley's Knowing and the Known in 1949, in which they suggested "transaction," I said: "That's the perfect term for the relationship between the reader and the text that I've been describing all along." We don't want to start out thinking of the reader as a static entity and the text as something that already has the fully-formed meaning in it. Reading is "transaction," during which each is continuously affecting the other. I suppose ecology is the field in which people understand this best--that human beings are affected by the environment, but they are also affecting it all the time, so that there is a transaction going on.
The continuous reciprocal influence of reader and text is similar, for instance, to two people talking to one another. What is said at the beginning of the conversation may take on an entirely different meaning by the end of it. What's said affects the person who hears it, who then says something response that affects the first speaker. Rather than two static entites, each person is being affected in the conversation and what comes next depends on what happened so far. The same thing is going on between the reader and these squiggles on the page. Squiggles on the page are just signs. Here I have borrowed from Charles Sanders Peirce who said that "There is not simply a sign and a signified, but there has to be some mind, some idea linking them". For instance, in reading the word "pain" a French reader will link it up with the concept of bread and an English reader with the concept of bodily or mental suffering. So there would be two different "interpretants" to use Peirce's term. (He used that term because he didn't want anyone to think there was a mind with a lot of hard links sitting up there waiting to clinch things, but that it was connections going on in the mind.). I call my theory the transactional theory because I wanted to emphasis this dynamic relationship.
Q. In respect to aesthetic and efferent reading you refer to how schools pay too much attention to one or the other and never combine them both in studying a subject. Could you outline what you think is the most appropriate method or model?
A. I suppose I can continue what I was describing as the reading process because once you have this relationship between the reader and the text then you see it becomes very important to realize what each of us brings to that text. We bring a knowledge of the language. We have to have the same code as the person who wrote the squiggles on the page, the text. When I use the word text, I mean just the signs on the page. I was very much influenced also by my work in Anthropology and Psychology to realize that each of us only brings a part of a segment of the language, no matter how much we know. In other words, the dictionary has so-called literal meanings, which is what most people would link with it, but then it has all sorts of special meanings that words take on in special context or in special vocabularies and so on. Each of us brings to the text the sum total of our past experiences with that word. In that I'm summarizing Vygotsky. Now, Vygotsky understood and emphasized very much the social character of language. But at the same time he recognized that each of us has only this personal experience which is the language for us at that moment. When I say our experience with those words in particular contexts, that means that not only had we acquired an understanding of a literal meaning but it had been in some special circumstance, and we have various associations with that word. Or, if the same word has been encountered in different contexts, we might have had different associations with it. That means that when the reader approaches the text and brings to it this reservoir of past experience of language and life, things get stirred up from this reservoir into our consciousness. We are selecting for attention what is relevant to our particular needs or interests or purposes at the time. And we are pushing into the background or ignoring what is irrelevant.
In reading, the reader is selecting out from what is being stirred up by the perception of the signs on the page. The reader has to select out from past experiences with those particular squiggles on the page what is relevant to that particular context. The selective activity of the reader, with particular assumptions, attitudes, and knowledge, becomes very important.
I became aware of the fact that when we read a text as a literary work of art, we are paying attention not only to what the words point to, their literal referents, but also to the associations or feelings being aroused. By paying attention to those associations, we are letting them color the way we are thinking and feeling as we read. I term this, as you have noted, aesthetic reading.
When we are reading for knowledge, for information, or for the conclusion to an argument, or maybe for directions as to action, as in a recipe, we are not primarily paying attention to our feelings, we are reading for what we are going to carry away afterwards. I term this efferent reading. An extreme example of efferent reading is a mother whose child has just swallowed a poisonous liquid. She has snatched up the bottle and is frantically reading the label. She is interested only in selecting out what to do after the reading is over. In this context, the word "water" would not bring up the nice associations of water that reading aesthetically would. So it's a selective activity that's involved.
Another one of my favorite illustrations is the student who was became very excited about dinosaurs. He wanted to know about dinosaurs, and he wanted to know what were they really like. He became very annoyed because he said his teacher kept bringing him "stories." He sensed the difference even though the teacher thought at that stage of the game it wasn't necessary to differentiate. It is impotant to differentiate purpose at any point in the learning process.
Also, the same text can be read either way. I can read Shakespeare efferently, I can tell you how many images of pain there are in King Lear or something like that. But if I really want to experience King Lear as a tragedy, I have to be reading it very differently. Not categorizing or labeling. It's often very valuable to know afterwards, to do it afterwards, after you've had the experience. So I would say about teaching: whenever you are having students read something, have them be clear about their purpose. You don't have to give them this whole theory, but get them used to knowing why they are reading this particular text. Then they will almost automatically adopt the efferent or the aesthetic stance--that is, pay attention mainly to the experiential or to the informative aspects.
Q.You are quoted as saying (1976) that traditional classroom instruction tends to downplay the rich cultural experience students bring to the educational arena. What do you think would be an appropriate model for teaching literacy across different cultural groups?
A. I think just the points that I've just have been making are relevant. Let me put it in a somewhat broader context in this way. I think that literature is a particularly important means of improving multicultural understanding. On the one hand it can help people to value their backgrounds. On the other hand it can help them to transcend their experience and to value other backgrounds and other individuals. You talk about people of different cultural backgrounds. The multicultural emphasis is right now on giving students things to read that help them to value their own background. I think that is too limited because they should also be helped to value other background. I think also, to get back to that first book of mine, I thought I was writing not only in order to save literature, but I was saving the world! I felt that democracy was being threatened. I saw what went on in the English classroom as being very important, because it helped people to think rationally about things that they were emotionally excited about. That was what I wanted particularly to get across.
When you teach reading and you teach literature it isn't just for them to have, but it's for them to be, something thing that they're emotionally involved in, and for them to be be able to think about rationally, to be able to handle their emotions. All of that enters into my thinking about multiculturalism.
Horace Kallen, Dean of the New School for Social Research and Alain Locke, who was a professor of Philosophy at Howard University and also at Harvard, suggested the term cultural pluralism. I feel that's a much better term than multiculturalism, because it emphasizes the pluralism but it also emphasizes the idea of diversity within unity. Of course, the unity is democracy. No matter what different backgrounds we come from to this country, the reason that we are able to maintain our own individuality or our own ethnic values is that we are in a democracy. If we don't value that, we are destroying the very basis for maintaining the things that we do value ethnically. So I feel that nowadays the tendency with multiculturalism is to be a little too concerned with asserting difference and not this diversity within unity which makes diversity possible..
Q.In somewhat the same vein of questioning, why you think your theories are so well received by feminist and ethnic cultures?
A. If this is so, it is probably because my theory takes in the fact of diversity but I suppose particularly because it stresses what the individual brings. Gender is is very much related to the individual's own personal development. That I suppose is why they welcome the emphasis on diversity within the group. From my point of view gender like ethnic background is extremely important, but it is unfortunate if you focus on any one of such factors as being the one thing, because all of these things are interspersed. Particularly with the feminine, we ought to make a difference between feminine and feminist. because there are many feminine traits shared by men and women. I know very macho men who are the most nurturing people. Now being a nurturing personality is considered a feminine trait. So it's too bad that nurturing got linked up with gender when that is a quality that you find spread out throughout the whole. Along with John Dewey and many other people, I'm very much opposed to dichotomies, to either/ors. I think that either/ors should be considered poles in a continuity. So that you have degrees of something. A whole range. So you have something like nurturing and you might find that there are more women who are nurturing than there are men who are nurturing. But you wouldn't have nurturing considered an inherently feminine trait. The present situation may be due to social pressures rather than gender. Recognizing that things are continuities helps so that after awhile the whole idea of gender will not be considered male versus female but the continuities between what is now considered male and female. Different people are at different points in physical strength, nurturing, or whatever.
Most people think of science and art, or scientific writing and or reading and literary or aesthetic writing or reading as being opposities or contrary. But the efferent and the aesthetic are poles in a continuum. Actually, when we read, as I have said, we engage in a selective process. But that doesn't mean that because you are paying most attention to the feelings that are aroused by a word, that you are not also thinking of the literal meaning. The feelings are attached to the literal meaning. It means that when you are reading that same term in a scientific work you have to then pay more attention to the literal meaning and push the affective associations, the feelings aside and ignore them as much as possible. But that doesn't mean that they are not there, so it's always relative, it's a mix, a proportion. I have this diagram in which I've tried to represent this, that is you may increase the amount of attention to feeling and still be reading something when your main purpose, let's say, is historical. You read a piece of historical writing and you may have very strong feelings or it may be presented in such a way as to bring up a lot of images and feelings. But you have to still remember that your purpose is historical or informational. I have used the illustration of Ann Lindbergh's The Wave of the Future. She wrote a book saying that fascism was the wave of the future. She has a powerful image: you can't fight fascism anymore than you can fight the wave that is looming over you. That's a powerful image, of that point when a wave is about to break over you. The question is not whether her image is strong but whether she has given the information, the facts, the reasoning, the values that would sustain not fighting not doing whatever you can. If I was faced with that kind of a wave I would dive under it. Maybe I'd go into the resistance or something. What I'm trying to get at is that I'm opposed to either-or thinking about reading, when we need to learn how to handle our emotions, even in mainly informative or efferent reading. Think of advertisements, political speeches, the newspaper as examples.
Q. In light of your transactional model of reading, where does one draw the line between the creative, personal interpretation of a work of literature and its possible misrepresentation?
A. If there is no absolutely single correct answer to what the particular text means--in other words if the text is not this ironclad set of ideas, if every reader makes the meaning, does that mean that there is no correct reading? Deconstruction seems practically at times to be telling us that ultimately every text can be made to contradict itself. I disagree with that, very decidedly. The deconstructionists share my premises, they are also relativists. They are post Einsteinian. But they've jumped at the conclusion that ultimately everything just ends up at this kind of impasse. (They've been doing a little correcting themselves lately.) But that was the position they took and a lot of people swallowed. My answer was, we can always agree on what we consider to be standards for good reading, for a good interpretation. We can start with, "Is your interpretation coherent, have you left out and not paid attention to certain parts of the text, of the signs on the page, that you should have paid attention to," and so on. Different people read differently, and then we start to defend our reading, but we do it by going back to the text. That is why the text is important. By the time the deconstructionists got through with it the text didn't exist anymore, except as a starting point for sort of fantasy. Whereas I'm saying, you and I may have different interpretations of Hamlet and you may say to me, "Well, you don't pay enough attention to the scene with the mother, I have such and such interpretations of that scene". I'll say, "Well, I fit it into my interpretation in such and such a way," and we start to see that we both have coherent interpretations. It may be that then we have to decide on whether we can agree on the basic assumptions. Maybe you are psychoanalytic and I don't know about psychoanalysis. So it may be that we start to realize that our criteria are different. So there isn't confusion, there isn't chaos, but we have to recognize that there are not fixed right or wrong, there are not questions with answers that can be easily marked as true or false.
Q. You've known a remarkable range of people such as your husband Sidney Ratner, Franz Boas, Maxine Greene, Margaret Mead, Catherine Bateson, Gregory Bateson, and I. A. Richards. Can you relate any interesting stories or experiences about them?
A. It's true, I was sort of fortunate living at a time when I was very young and there were all of these wonderful people around. Anyway I think I'll tell you about, I think it was 1929 and I was in Paris. I'd come back for a second stay to try to finish my dissertation. Through my friend Leonie Adams, who had published poetry and who had a Guggenheim fellowship, I'd met a number of young writers and every afternoon we'd go to Ford Madox Ford's apartment on the Rue de Vaugirard. He's the novelist, and he also had been a great editor. He had really launched a number of the writers of the twentieth century, such as Ernest Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence. Ford gave an at home on New Year's Day. All sorts of literary names were there. I found myself suddenly next to Gertrude Stein. I thought that I had to say something. So I said "Miss Stein you haven't been back to the United States for many years. Isn't there anything that you miss?" She said "Yes, Woolworth's".
Q. What about Margaret Mead? What is your most memorable story about Margaret Mead?
A. Because we were such close friends for our whole lives, I don't have special stories. Well, I'll tell you two stories.
In her autobiography, Margaret Mead tells that when we were at college, we were part of a group that called ourselves the Ash Can Cats. But she didn't explain why. There was Léonie Adams, who was a senior when I was a freshman. She had already published, and was recognized as one of the best poets in America. (She went on to hold the post at the Library of Congress that is now called the Poet Laureate.) She and Margaret were the center of the group. One day, Léonie went to a class with Professor Latham, a very histrionic teacher of a course in drama. Léonie, as usual, came in late. Miss Latham--I hope you'll forgive my imitating her Mississippi speech--turned and said, "You girls sit up all night readin' po'try, 'n come to class lookin' like ash can cats." Léonie came back and told us this story, and we decided to call ourselves the Ash Can Cats. (I never heard the phrase before or since). If you are an ash can cat because you read poetry all night, that's one thing. But somehow, given the overtones of ash can cats, when Margaret didn't tell why we were called that, I was a little upset. Well, that's one story.
How many of you know the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay? We used to go down to the Greenwich Village and have dinner. Those were the days of Prohibition and we would drink red ink in coffee cups. We would light a candle at both ends and we would recite Edna Millay's little poem about, "My candle burns at both ends/ It will not last the night/ But ah my foes, and oh my friends/ it gives a lovely light". On May Day eve we would make May baskets and we would hang them on a few people's doors. When I was a senior, I was the last ash can cat to graduate and we decided we would give our final basket to Edna St. Vincent Millay. She lived in the village in a little narrow house in a little courtyard. We went sneaking in and we hung the basket and then we hid behind a wall. Finally somebody came out and said "Oh, a May basket!" Then the door closed. So we waited and waited and finally we crept out. Edna St. Vincent Millay was leaning out the upstairs window, and Leonie was very much embarrassed that she should find her in this situation.
Q. Would you share some stories about Gregory Bateson?
A. Gregory Bateson was Margaret Mead's third husband. Her second and third husbands were both anthropologists and she went out into the field and worked with them. Gregory Bateson came of the most distinguished intellectual background in England. His father had been a tremendously important scientist. Gregory was a very brilliant man, very individual. He developed a theory in his book, Steps Towards an Ecology of Mind that I find very congenial because its really a transactional study. He also had a theory called schizmogenesis which means something that is born out of conflict or out of division. His point was, for example, that people who are antagonistic will strengthen one another's characteristics by their very conflict. Conflict makes each side get more and more aggressive, more and more violent in their beliefs. The important thing, I believe, is to try and stop the conflict and try to bring about some transactional rather than schizmogenic relationship, to combine his terminology and mine.
Q.What are your current interests?
A. I'm trying to do a fuller discussion of my previous discussion of the theory of writing. But I'm finding it very hard to write it in a different way because the writer is the first reader, and as soon as I use the word reader I have to explain what I mean about reading. I wanted to talk about writing first and then reading but I find I'm back to the same order as my previous essay. The main reason I'm not finishing is that I feel that everything I've been talking about is so much in danger at the present moment that that's what one ought to be thinking about. After all if children are tired or hungry or frightened or the roof is leaking over their heads or what not, for me to be worrying about whether they are learning to read efferently or aesthetically might seem to me a little visionary. I said earlier that I thought democracy was threatened at the time I wrote Literature as Exploration. I think that democracy is much more threatened now. Then it was threatened more from without and now it's threatened from within. The public schools and the whole idea of equal education for everyone are being undermined at the present time by what's happening both in our national and state governments. Whatever energy I have, I ought to be giving to that, so I've been writing letters which is the only kind of action that is open to me at this point.
I have been particularly concerned with urging that professional and educational associations should set up an agency or agencies for quickly responding to misinformation in the press or to political moves that provide seeming solutions to current problems but that will have undesirable long-term effects. I can't take the time here to document the amount of misinformation, of misinterpretation of statistical data, that even our more reputable media are disseminating about the actual situation in the schools and the problem of literacy.
What has happened is that we teachers have not communicated with the public enough, with the parents and particularly with the public that does the voting, to make them understand what it is we are trying to do for their children. If they accept some of these quick answers, these speedy answers to educational problems that are being offered to us, they may seem to be helping their children but in the long run they are going to create a world in which their children are going to have to live, where there will be terrible differences in wealth, in education, in health and in every other way. I feel we really have to be devoting our time and efforts to criticizing these short-sighted political solutions, and demanding revisions. that's why I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I have this urge to constantly try to explain what I am driving at in my own thinking about reading and writing. On the other hand, I feel that all of us ought to be concerned about this broader political, economic problem. I've seen cyclic changes, but in this cycle, maybe because of the economic affluence and concentrations of wealth, we find ourselves greatly at the mercy of people who may be very good at making or collecting money but who may not understand children or society or education. They've got the money, however, to propagagandize their particular notions, sometimes well-meaning but neglectful of long-term educational and social efforts, We've got to at least rally numbers in the political arena.