A few years back, I learned that in the nineteenth century American schools made the switch from teaching rhetoric to teaching English literature in order to deal with Anglo-Americans' fears regarding large numbers of recent immigrants. Instead of teaching the children of immigrants how to use the English language, America would teach them to be Anglo-American by forcefeeding them reverance for Anglo-American (mainly anglo) literature. I know that sounds a bit hostile, but I heard it from an Italian-American English professor who was nowhere near old enough to have lived through that period but was definitely bitter nonetheless.
I must admit, I was shaken to think that I had spent my college years majoring in a field that was created to control my grandparents and my father and his siblings. But, hey, Dad, Uncle Isidore, and all but one of my aunts beat the system! They all dropped out of the American school system before high school! There was no controlling them! Booyah!
My question is, why do we teach English literature, particularly on the high school level, these days? Are we still trying to teach respect for the "correct" literature? Maintain and improve reading skills to prepare literate citizens who can read about and comprehend issues and thus make educated, informed choices at the voting booth? Encourage life-long reading for both personal and professional enrichment?
Think about this and get back to me.