In a postmodern world, education has been stripped of its authority. Teachers face disrespect in the classroom. Teachers are no longer respected as people; but neither do their students look up to what teachers teach. The curriculum, as well as its communicators, has been knocked off its pedestal.
Nowhere is this rejection of authoritative truth more pervasive in the curriculum than in the realm of literature. Gene Edward Veith Jr. writes, “Postmodernists tend on principle to rebel against authority. This includes not only objective authorities (such as God, parents, the State), but also the authority of the text (which has no meaning) and the authority of the artist (the word ‘authority’ being based on the word ‘author’)”. [Postmodern Times, p.108; italics added]
Any sense of authority is transferred to the reader who has the ability to create his own meaning out of the text. Veith’s reference to the etymology of author is insightful; an author was an authority figure – but is one no longer.
This plays out in the realm of drama. Dramatists rebel against the authority of the text (why should I follow the script?). Instead of memorizing lines, actors improvise. And ultimately it is turned over to the audience – as in the mystery plays performed in countless dinner theatres in which the audience “votes” during the intermission on who they think “did it”. The play ends the way the audience wants it to, regardless of clues and plots.
And in like manner, children are empowered to “read” within such a framework. It becomes an exercise in creating one’s own reality rather than learning from somebody who had something to say. The words on the page carry no weight as an expression of the intent of the writer, and they have no objective connection to the real world. It’s all in the mind of the reader. Such an approach to the written text extends beyond their experience of fiction; it is extrapolated into their reading of text books and the text of scripture. The reader is sovereign; the author is without authority.
Perhaps A.A.Milne saw it coming. Frederick Crews satirically analyses the Winnie-the-Pooh books to expose the absurdities of a postmodern approach to literature. He writes, “[In] logocentrism the delusory assumption [is] that the signifiers we employ actually denote their signified objects. But the Pooh books continually saw away at that very premise. ‘This writing business,’ as Eeyore puts it. ‘Pencils and what-not. Over-rated if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.’ Eeyore... perceives, as does Derrida, that writing as a direct conveyer of meaning, with necessary connections between word and object, begs to be devalued. By ascribing this lesson to Eeyore, the text implies that any ass could learn it.” [Postmodern Pooh, p.11f]
And learn it they have. Books? Over-rated. Silly stuff. Nothing in it. It’s not that books are sacred, though it was a brighter day when they were treasured rather than used as coffee mats. But the idea of text is sacred, for it was God who chose to reveal himself in words that he caused to be written. The emptiness is in Eeyore’s head rather than in the text, and the task of the Christian teacher is to fill those all-too-open minds with Truth. To teach with authority – like Jesus did.