Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Papa San of American Literature

According to a story in The Korea Times, almost no Korean students take an environmental science or economics class in school. This is because these subjects are not covered on Korea's college entrance exams. While that is no doubt true, and kind of sad, I was initially more intrigued by the lede statement that Mark Twain is the "father of American literature." After all, he wasn't born until 1835, sixty years after the nation's founding.
Mark Twain, Father of American Literature?
A quick google on the term yields 8,220 results. While Twain gets extra points by virtue of the fact that William Faulkner described him thus, most sites seem to ascribe our literary paternity to Washington Irving. Aside from those two (according to the Google results), candidates include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Benjamin Franklin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper (whose father was the Father of Cooperstown, NY) and even Captain John Smith, author of The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles.

A Princeton Companion identifies Philip Morin Freneau as the Father of American Literature, but I suspect that's because he went to school there. I've never even heard of him--and although my ignorance is bottomless, it ain't that bottomless.

Of all the names mentioned, who is the truest patriarch? I don't know. I'm not even sure Captain Pierce of the 4077th would know--although his given name is Benjamin Franklin, his nickname 'Hawkeye' is from The Last of the Mohicans by Cooper. Of course, we all know what Twain thought of Cooper--if you don't, click here.

Anyway, the newsstory itself is an interesting profile of two Korean teachers bucking the system to bring hands-on education into their classrooms on subjects with practical application to the lives of their students. Even if it won't be on the exam.

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