Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value

By Julian Johnson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4.
UNDERSTANDING MUSIC

ADULT LITERACY

The ability to read and write is fundamental to adult life. Understanding the world around us and being able to express our thoughts and feelings through the written word is considered basic. It is understood as a right to which all adults should have access: a right that not only concerns the personal development of individuals, but forms the very basis of a modern democratic society. A democracy presumes literacy in such a way that it becomes not only the right of its members but, effectively, a requirement and a responsibility.

When children learn to read, they acquire skills through a carefully graded path. They gradually learn not only new vocabulary but more complicated grammatical constructions. Educational curricula are based on the notion of “reading ages, and the books children read at different stages of their education reflect these in style, format, and content. We take great care to ensure that reading material is appropriate for our children and that it helps them develop a mature understanding of themselves and the world. Indeed, we link maturity and intelligence so closely to literacy that adults who have never learned to read or write must deal with considerable stigma. We would be alarmed if our children grew up without progressing beyond the books they read in elementary school or if they could deal only with texts in comic book format. Why? Because we believe that the development of literacy is central to the full development of an adult, that it enables a greater participation in social life, a richer experience of the world, and an enhancement of one's capacity for self-expression; without it, we seem to lack a vital tool for fulfilling our social potential.

While such views are generally held, we frequently ignore the principles by and for which our children are educated. Much of the literature we consume requires the ability to read in only the most basic sense and in no way exercises a more developed literary sense or the critical tools we aspire to teach our children at school. Even less are we required in

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