Patterico's Pontifications

6/2/2016

Whiny Ivy League English Majors: Don’t Make Us Read White Male Poets!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:37 am



Reason:

Some Yale University students are demanding changes to the English Department curriculum: specifically, they don’t think it should feature so many English poets who were straight, white, wealthy, and male.

“It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices,” the students wrote in a petition to the faculty. “We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.”

The “Major English Poets” sequence, a mandatory two-course commitment for English majors, is particularly problematic, according to the students. These classes cover Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and T.S. Eliot. It’s not the most diverse line up, to be sure, but it’s the one that best reflects history the way it actually happened. Inarguably, these are the most influential poets in the English language.

Reason quotes a student petition expressing discontent with the course’s focus on these poets:

When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong. The English department loses out when talented students engaged in literary and cultural analysis are driven away from the major. Students who continue on after taking the introductory sequence are ill-prepared to take higher-level courses relating to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, ability, or even to engage with critical theory or secondary scholarship. We ask that Major English Poets be abolished, and that the pre-1800/1900 requirements be refocused to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.

It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings. A 21st century education is a diverse education: we write to you today inspired by student activism across the university, and to make sure that you know that the English department is not immune from the collective call to action.

Everyone who signed this petition is what’s wrong with this country.

I would have thought studying the works of the great poets and writers would be more important to an English major than studying “gender, race, sexuality, ableism,* and ethnicity.” Shows you what I know about an English major. (I was an English major, but that was 1990.)

I took a literature class in college in which works of black writers were heavily emphasized. (This was not advertised in the title of the course, which was a survey of American literature from a particular time period — but that was the (black female) professor’s desire.) I liked it. We read folks like Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin (whom I liked) and folks like Toni Morrison (whom I did not care for). I considered reading these works, many of which discussed the black experience in this nation, to be a mind-opening experience — and indeed, I have described James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” as one of a handful of books that have changed the way I look at the world.

I didn’t get up and walk out of the class or start a petition because I was reading authors with a different skin color and a different life experience from mine. I read and I learned.

The major English poets from before 1800 were predominantly white males. Shut up and deal with it. Read and learn.

*I had to look up “ableism.” Taking the logic of this concept to its logical extreme, a doctor’s proposal to cure a disability would be considered unacceptable bigotry — because it implies that the person’s disability is a problem to be cured.

25 Responses to “Whiny Ivy League English Majors: Don’t Make Us Read White Male Poets!”

  1. “We read folks like Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin (whom I liked) and folks like Toni Morrison (whom I did not care for).”

    “folks” —excellent word choice in this context!

    jb (9badd6)

  2. Welcome to my world, Patterico.

    It’s all oikophobia, all the time.

    Simon Jester (bb7e0e)

  3. I had to look that one up too.

    At least I had an accurate guess as to what ableism meant.

    Patterico (86c8ed)

  4. I’m sorry, Patterico. This really changed the way I looked at our weird academic culture, which is shared by the MSM.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704147804575455523068802824

    http://www.nationalreview.com/postmodern-conservative/425181/more-still-scruton-versus-oikophobia-peter-augustine-lawler

    Simon Jester (bb7e0e)

  5. makes me wanna listen to this about the pajamas

    happyfeet (831175)

  6. Students who continue on after taking the introductory sequence are ill-prepared to take higher-level courses relating to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, ability, or even to engage with critical theory or secondary scholarship.

    You mean “insufficiently brainwashed” and “might think that we read those poets because their writing is outstanding, not because of bigotry.”

    I deliberately took a very challenging set of majors in college, not in spite of sexism, but because it still exists. Go ahead and try to tell me that my mind isn’t up to snuff – I took advanced quantum mechanics and read Homer in the original Greek.

    I just don’t understand how these kids are going to be effective at combating racism and sexism when they are unwilling (or perhaps unable) to do the hard work of understanding Chaucer and Pope, or how they even expect to be outstanding writers, whose works will be read for generations to come, if they do not study the best that has ever been.

    bridget (37b281)

  7. Yale English majors.

    “Everyone who signed this petition is what’s wrong with this country.”

    Your deadpan humor?

    nk (dbc370)

  8. bridget, when I was a boy, we were encouraged to read a lot of Black history, which I found very interesting and inspiring. Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King, Jr. taught me a lot. Even Malcolm X.

    But these students a Yale want to have a cause, not an effect.

    Most of all, they don’t want to be exposed to ideas they don’t reflexively like. I can just imagine with Douglass would say.

    Simon Jester (bb7e0e)

  9. What I gleaned from your link Simon Jester, is basically “oikophobe” and “idiot” are synonymous.

    Rev. Hoagie© (734193)

  10. Walt Whitman, Lord Byron, and Oscar Wilde were all prominent 19th century poets who were known to be gay. Emily Dickinson is suspected, although that might be a case of modern-day activists trying to co-opt her very private life — who knows.
    Some activists have painfully even tried to suggest that Shakespeare was secretly gay just as they’ve tried to do to Abe Lincoln, but it’s more likely that The Bard was merely a secret Catholic (for real.)

    Anyhow, this is all just more evidence that the Left does not embrace merit or historical signifigance. They’re basically trying to discriminate against the great poets of the western canon due to their skin color, orientation, and nationality.
    What is someone could prove that Shakespeare walked with a limp — would that enable him to be viewed through the prism of having a disability? (LOL)

    Art should be critiqued for its merit, and not the skin color, orientation, or any other politics involving its creator.

    Cruz Supporter (102c9a)

  11. The really sad thing is that these “students” are not aberrations. They conform to all progressive specifications. The know nothing of history, and every new intellectual fad is regarded by them as an advance. They believe that they are highest and most perfect creatures ever created from the human genome. They have been taught that all knowledge already exists within them, and all they need to do is ask the right questions. Their feelings are their guiding lights.

    Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants to see further. These characters squirm and splash in the excrement of the modern academy, and they have not been touched by sunlight nor rain water in their entire life. They are blissfully unaware that everything they think they have figured out was experienced hundreds of generations ago, and discarded as rubbish. Usually after well documented hardships were endured by forefathers that they refuse to acknowledge.

    BobStewartatHome (404986)

  12. The irony that the poets of the 16th to1ith century were protesters of the status quo and they hid thier protest behind wit and allegory or even good purple prose. So education is really lacking in both history, humanities and the written word.

    Charles (e0f583)

  13. Milton was blind. So by tradition was Homer.
    Alexander Pope was a crippled dwarf. And as a Catholic he suffered true legal discrimination that makes the current flock of not paying for birth control/not baking cakes seem a bunch of whiners.
    In my youth, it was often argued that Shakespeare was involved in a homosexual affair based on references in the sonnets. He certainly wrote a play about a homosexual king (Richard II).

    I guess Yale students don’t really know much about the topic they are criticiding.

    kishnevi (c62fd3)

  14. If students believe that they already know — better than the professors at their college — what ought to be in the curriculum and what is important for them to learn, why are they bothering to enroll in college at all? Shouldn’t they just establish their own college and appoint themselves the professors?

    Joshua K. (9ede0e)

  15. An excerpt from Coleridge:

    …The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
    The furrow followed free;
    We were the first that ever burst
    Into that silent sea.

    Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
    ‘Twas sad as sad could be;
    And we did speak only to break
    The silence of the sea!

    All in a hot and copper sky,
    The bloody Sun, at noon,
    Right up above the mast did stand,
    No bigger than the Moon.

    Day after day, day after day,
    We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
    As idle as a painted ship
    Upon a painted ocean.

    Water, water, every where,
    And all the boards did shrink;
    Water, water, every where,
    Nor any drop to drink.

    The very deep did rot: O Christ!
    That ever this should be!
    Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
    Upon the slimy sea.

    About, about, in reel and rout
    The death-fires danced at night;
    The water, like a witch’s oils,
    Burnt green, and blue and white.

    And some in dreams assurèd were
    Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
    Nine fathom deep he had followed us
    From the land of mist and snow.

    And every tongue, through utter drought,
    Was withered at the root;
    We could not speak, no more than if
    We had been choked with soot.

    Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
    Had I from old and young!
    Instead of the cross, the Albatross
    About my neck was hung.

    ropelight (596f46)

  16. I never understood how civization went from a high literacy rate during the Roman Empire to practical illiteracy during the dark ages.

    Now I understand.

    These people must not reproduce. Can’t we just give them their own state to enjoy their “lord of the flies ” style commune?

    njrob (16dff1)

  17. Just how many black writers and poets, writing in English, were there during the times of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare? If someone wanted to be educated on the poetry and prose of black authors during the 14th and 16th centuries, wouldn’t that person be better advised to be looking at work in a language other than English?

    The Dana asking the obvious question (f6a568)

  18. Mr Supporter wrote:

    Some activists have painfully even tried to suggest that Shakespeare was secretly gay

    We already know that Mr Shakespeare bedded Gwyneth Paltrow, so he couldn’t have been homosexual.

    The snarky Dana (f6a568)

  19. *I had to look up “ableism.” Taking the logic of this concept to its logical extreme, a doctor’s proposal to cure a disability would be considered unacceptable bigotry — because it implies that the person’s disability is a problem to be cured.

    That is exactly what it means. For instance, Deaf-with-a-capital-D people regard cochlear implants as a form of genocide. I kid you not. Any time you see someone write Deaf with a capital, that is what you are dealing with.

    It’s of a piece with the term “cisgender”, which was coined specifically for the purpose of brainwashing students with the idea that there is nothing normal or to be expected about the congruence of ones sex with ones gender. If yours happen to match, well and good, but it’s just a throw of the dice; that more than 99% of people got the same throw is just a statistical fluke. Therefore if we have a term for people whose sex and gender don’t match then we also need one for those whose do.

    For that matter the invention of “gender” as a term for one’s self-perceived sex is itself part of the same phenomenon. I remember when only words had gender, and people had sex and nothing else. Those few who were unhappy with their sex were, well, “people unhappy with their sex”. There wasn’t a word for them, because it wasn’t a common enough condition to need one, at least outside medical jargon.

    Note too, the use of “transgender” or “cisgender”, not “transgendered” or “cisgendered”; these are not accidental traits of a person, they are essential. But at the same time we must never refer to a person with a term referring any accidental trait they may have; we must instead say “person with <trait>”, or even <verbed> person.

    Milhouse (87c499)

  20. *I had to look up “ableism.” Taking the logic of this concept to its logical extreme, a doctor’s proposal to cure a disability would be considered unacceptable bigotry — because it implies that the person’s disability is a problem to be cured.

    Of course. We’ve already passed that point with the so-called transgender. Johns Hopkins University pioneered sex change operations, but they won’t do them any more. Thinking you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body, vice versa, or something else on the ever expanding list of gender identities is a disease of the mind. Psychiatrists and psychologists, at least those who are actually responsible and not activists, know this is. They originally thought that bringing the body in line with the mind would have a better success rate than trying to cure the underlying gender dysphoria. And usually other problems as well.

    There is no man alive who should have been born a woman, for instance. Female psychiatrists can interview men who have this condition and know within minutes that they don’t have a woman’s thought or emotional patterns. What they have is a caricature in their mind of how women are supposed to think and feel. It’s not at all the same thing. And mutilating their bodies won’t fix anything. This type of bodily mutilation won’t yield better outcomes than psychiatric therapy. This is why Johns Hopkins and other major hospitals will no longer do those surgeries. It doesn’t work.

    So we’re already there is we consider mental and emotionally disabling conditions, and not just physical. It is now considered bigotry to try to treat someone with gender dysphoria. Next I suppose we’ll no longer treat people with bulimia. If a bulimic thinks they’re fat, just like a person who has gender dysphoria thinks they were born the wrong gender, “who are we to judge.” Or body integrity identity disorder. That’s when a physically healthy individual believes there’s something wrong with them. They were supposed to have been born blind, or with one of their limbs.

    If it’s now bigotry to deny someone bodily mutilating sex change operations, how can we deny other people different bodily mutilating operations?

    Then there are the “otherkin;” people who believe they were born the wrong species and they’re really a wolf or a raccoon or something. And, again, why not? If DNA doesn’t matter when it comes to one’s why should it matter when it comes to one’s species.

    We are living through an incredibly stupid time to be alive.

    Steve57 (e33d44)

  21. I remember reading about those lunatics who want to keep kids deaf because they think being unable to hear is a [obscenity deleted] *culture*, and thinking that flinging them into a pit of rabid honey badgers would be a *kind* way of addressing their views. I’ve had people try to convince me that evil isn’t a real thing–I point them to the “deafness is a way of life that must be preserved with the misery of children” scum every time I need an example to explain why this viewpoint is stupid.

    M. Scott Eiland (59e34f)

  22. ropelight (596f46) — 6/2/2016 @ 9:45 am

    the Albatross
    About my neck was hung

    I think Louis Zampirini also killed an albatross or two while he was floating through the Pacific Ocean after eing shot down.

    Sammy Finkelman (eb1481)

  23. The Milhouse who spells his name differently than President Nixon did wrote:

    That is exactly what it means. For instance, Deaf-with-a-capital-D people regard cochlear implants as a form of genocide. I kid you not. Any time you see someone write Deaf with a capital, that is what you are dealing with.

    Oddly enough, I regard my bunny ears — our family name for my hearing aids — the same way people with poor vision regard glasses, as an aid for getting around in the world.

    Yeah, they’re sometimes inconvenient, and I don’t wear them as often as I should, but I don’t see my level of hearing loss as making me some different species which needs to be protected.

    The hard-of-hearing Dana (f6a568)

  24. Normal people don’t, Dana. And I imagine that if someone offered you perfect hearing or vision you’d take it gratefully, not accuse them of attempted genocide. Which is the difference between deaf people and Deaf people.

    Milhouse (87c499)

  25. I still think Patterico is trolling us. He does this, sometimes.

    Clue: “Everyone who signed this petition is what’s wrong with this country.”

    Yale English majors who object to traditional English poets are about as significant a part of America as one-legged blond Tibetan transvestite dwarfs who sneak into ladies rooms in North Carolina.

    nk (dbc370)


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