The Absence(s) of Contemporary Literature in Schools

Tadween’s Mahmoud Mostafa recently had a good overview of the lack of contemporary literature in Egypt’s schools:

An example of lignification from
An example of lignification from

His “The Absence of Contemporary Literature in Egypt’s Education System” gives a brief glimpse of the literature taught throughout the primary and secondary years. For early primary, however, we’d have to scare-quote what passes for poetry as “literature.” After that, Mostafa discusses this lack with poet Mohamed Kheir and others.

Kheir suggests that the absence of contemporary literature throughout an Egyptian student’s education is “a large scale knowledge problem and has created a huge gap between the world as it is and the world as the student is taught. A student graduates as if we are still in the era of the Arab desert nomads. Upon facing the shock of discovering that today’s poetry is not like what was taught, a student either denounces the whole thing, lignifies or starts learning the modern way very late.”

With US educational systems, there is certainly no lack of contemporary literature, although there is a paucity of translated literature.There is not a top-down English program that allows an easy overview of what sort of literatures are taught in US schools: it varies. But the general paucity of translated books, in English, for children and young adults suggests there likely is a lack. Indeed, most children’s books seem to elide linguistic differences entirely. The exceptionally popular Magic Tree House series has two children traveling through space and time in a Tardis-like tree house, talking to everyone in their native English without question or complication. There’s not even a Dr. Who-like explanation that the magic tree house translates.

It’s possible that, upon facing the shock of discovery that there are great worlds of literary traditions in other languages, we adult Anglophone readers either denounce the whole thing, turn to wood, or start learning the modern way very late. We can hope for the latter.