How I Unlearned What I Learned in ‘School’ (About Sir Walter Scott)

First as a student, and later as a teacher, I came to suspect that the purpose of required reading programs in public “school” was to impart to children a distaste for reading.

Case in point: Sir Walter Scott. I had to read Ivanhoe in high school, and it left me with the impression that Scott was one of the worst writers ever to abuse the English language. Maybe not quite as bad as George Eliot with Silas Marner, but certainly bad enough to justify never reading him again. So I shunned his books for most of my life.

Just a couple of years ago, some unaccountable impulse moved me to give Sir Walter another chance; so I read Kenilworth, and it turned out to be a work of genius that knocked my socks off. I went on to read Rob Roy (the story in the book bears very little resemblance to the story in the movie, although I do enjoy the movie) and The Heart of Midlothian; and now, after all this time, I’m reading Ivanhoe again–and enjoying it tremendously.

These are truly great books. I see now that what they did in high school was to give us an edition of Ivanhoe that had all the guts and passion edited out of it. They dumbed it down, mangled it, mugged it. Why? Beats me.

Kenilworth is dark, suspenseful, gripping: a startling look inside the workings of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. The only thing I can find to compare it with would be Solzhenitsyn’s writings about life in Stalin’s Russia.

Rob Roy takes us on a shocking visit to a Scotland that we never knew existed. In the midst of almost unimaginable poverty and chaos, we find honor, courage, love, and forgiveness blooming like rare flowers.

In The Heart of Midlothian, a young woman armed only with goodness and indomitable perseverance sets out to rescue her fiancee, who has been cast into prison for a crime he didn’t commit–a tale of moral heroism. And Ivanhoe takes us into the very heart of the Middle Ages…

Scott is one of those rare authors who can create characters who are good without being goody-goody. He does it again and again, as if it were easy. What a great soul he must have had! And his message is one we very badly need to hear today: that even in the darkest of times, the light of God-given goodness can never be extinguished.

So let’s have a Walter Scott revival! It would do us good.

2 comments on “How I Unlearned What I Learned in ‘School’ (About Sir Walter Scott)

  1. And it has grown much worse in the schools today. It is really pathetic the way students are failing to be served valuable education in favor of
    social studies (re-engineering) in every subject in the book. Literary
    presentations; forget it It is rare these days that a young person
    graduates with any ability to write, read, spell or reason. Teachers are
    no longer teachers, but instead they are “change agents” and the change is not for the better.

  2. Erlene, you wouldn’t believe what they have on the students’ required reading list, these days! Maybe soon I’ll write about the controversial reading list at Willingboro High School, New Jersey. But my digestion isn’t up to it today.

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