Phyllis Schlafly: wouldn’t pass my composition class October 3, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in education, language and lit, wingnuts.
Sadly, No! and Shakesville are already all over Phyllis Schlafly’s latest screed, “Advice to College Students: Don’t Major in English,” but I’ll take a moment to bring my expertise to the subject. You see, Schafly’s problem is that she can’t write as well as my Junior Comp students. In fact, her essay would fail at the Freshman level.* So to support the cause of education, I will provide comments for Schlafly so that she can better her writing.
Before I get to that, though, let me add this: if I were Schlafly, I’d be terrified of English, too: a good English education will help teach critical thinking, and even a little of that is enough to show Schlafly for the intellectual lightweight she is.
Now, on to her essay:
The bad news is that Shakespeare has disappeared from required courses in English departments at more than three-fourths of the top 25 U.S. universities, but the good news is that only 1.6 percent of America’s 19 million undergraduates major in English, according to Department of Education figures.
Always cite your sources, Ms Schlafly.
When I visit college campuses, students for years have been telling me that the English departments are the most radicalized of all departments, more so than sociology, psychology, anthropology, or even women’s studies.
Anecdotal evidence from a self-selected group of people is not particularly persuasive. Can you provide some hard data to back this up?
That’s why it was no surprise that Cho Seung-Hui, the murderer of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, was an English major.
So radicalization leads to murder? Sloppy thinking like this will alienate your audience, Ms Schlafly. If you are going to seriously make the case that English is responsible for the VT shootings, you need much more evidence.
In the decades before “progressive” education became the vogue, English majors were required to study Shakespeare, the pre-eminent author of English literature. The premise was that students should be introduced to the best that has been thought and said.
Are universities no longer interested in teaching good literature, then? Again, you will need to provide evidence.
What happened? To borrow words from Hamlet: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Universities deliberately replaced courses in the great authors of English literature with what professors openly call “fresh concerns,” “under-represented cultures,” and “ethnic or non-Western literature.”
So the only great authors were white Europeans with a Y Chromosome, then?
When the classics are assigned, they are victims of the academic fad called deconstructionism. That means: pay no mind to what the author wrote or meant; deconstruct him and construct your own interpretation, as in a Vanderbilt University course called “Shakespearean Sexuality,” or “Chaucer: Gender and Genre” at Hamilton College.
Your ideas here are not logically connected. In addition, it hurts your credibility to discuss deconstuctionism without demonstrating an understanding of what it means.
The facts about what universities are teaching English majors were exposed this year by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. English majors are offered a potpourri of worthless courses.
You might wish to provide a link to their work here. In addition, what does “worthless” mean? Are you more able to decide what is worthwhile than specialists in English and university administrators? If so, why?
Some English department courses are really sociology or politics.
Examples are “Gender and Sociopolitical Activism in 20th Century Feminist Utopias” at Macalester College; “Of Nags, Bitches and Shrews: Women and Animals in Western Literature” at Dartmouth College; and “African and Diasporic Ecological Literature” at Bates College.
Should English departments then require their teachers to avoid mentioning the social and political context of the work? Perhaps you believe Dickens should not be evaluated in terms of its cultural concerns, but many would disagree.
Many undergraduate courses focus on extremely specialized subjects of interest only to the professor who is trying to “publish or perish,” but of virtually no value to students. Examples are: “Beast Culture: Animals, Identity, and Western Literature” at the University of Pennsylvania; and “Food and Literature” at Swarthmore College.
You could not have known this, but I took a “Food and Literature” course and found it enlightening and worthwhile. And, Ms. Schlafly, I would humbly suggest that my English major left me well-equipped to discuss the classics. If you disagree, I would happily pit my own knowledge against your own.
Some English departments offer courses in pop culture. Examples are: “It’s Only Rock and Roll” at the University of California San Diego; “Animals, Cannibals, Vegetables” at Emory University; “Cool Theory” at Duke University; and “The Cult of Celebrity: Icons in Performance, Garbo to Madonna” at the University of Pennsylvania.
Why is pop culture not an acceptable subject for English? Shakespeare was writing popular literature.
Of course, English professors now love to teach about sex. Examples are: “Shakesqueer” at American University; “Queer Studies” at Bates College; “Promiscuity and the Novel” at Columbia University; and “Sexing the Past” at Georgetown University.
Perhaps you would like to draw up a list of which topics English departments cannot mention when discussing literature so they will know. Perhaps you could benefit from one of the widely-available Shakespeare classes, which would demonstrate how Shakespeare includes a great deal of bawdy themes and homoerotic tensions. These complaints seem to indicate that you have little understanding of what actually goes on in an English class, and severely hurt your credibility.
Some English-department courses really belong in a weirdo department. Examples are: “Creepy Kids in Fiction and Film” at Duke University, which focuses on “weirdoes, creeps, freaks, and geeks of the truly evil variety”; “Bodies of the Middle Ages: Embodiment, Incarnation, Practice” at Cornell University; “The Conceptual Black Body in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Visual Culture” at Mount Holyoke College; and “Folklore and the Body” at Oberlin College.
Without a discussion of these courses’ content, this list is roughly as valuable as writing a paper on Shakespeare without having looked beyond the table of contents.
Replacing the classics with authors of children’s literature is now common. Assigned readings for college students include Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, The Wizard of Oz, and Snow White.
Of course, children’s literature has no value. How silly that anyone would think otherwise!
Twenty years ago, University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloom achieved best-seller lists and fame with his book “The Closing of the American Mind.” He dated the change in academic curricula from the 1960s when universities began to abandon the classic works of literature and instead adopt multicultural readings written by untalented, unimportant women and minorities.
Bloom’s book showed how the Western canon of what educated Americans should know – from Socrates to Shakespeare – was replaced with relativism and the goals of opposing racism, sexism and elitism. Current works promoting multiculturalism written by women and minorities replaced the classics of Western civilization written by the DWEMs, Dead White European Males.
I applaud you on finally bringing in some outside evidence. However, do you truly believe no literature worth studying has been written since Shakespeare, or by anyone but “DWEMs”?
Left-wing academics, often called tenured radicals, eagerly spread the message, and students at Stanford in 1988 chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Western civ has got to go.” The classicists were cowed into silence, and it’s now clear that the multiculturalists won the canon wars.
Why is this “clear”? It might be worth noting whether students are actually studying western literature in English classes. Without further support, your essay seems mainly to argue that women and people of color cannot contribute to literature.
Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton have been replaced by living authors who toe the line of multicultural political correctness, i.e., view everything through the lens of race, gender and class based on the assumption that America is a discriminatory and unjust racist and patriarchal society. The only good news is that students seldom read books any more and use Cliffs Notes for books they might be assigned.
I suspect you mean the final sentence to be ironic, but it does not make you likely to persuade anyone that you truly value education and reading.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni says “a degree in English without Shakespeare is like an M.D. without a course in anatomy. It is tantamount to fraud.”
A survey of English courses would tell you that many universities find Shakespeare courses among their most valuable. If you can find evidence that students are in fact not exposed to Shakespeare, please provide it.
College students: Don’t waste your scarce college dollars on a major in English.
I applaud you on providing a thesis.
In conclusion, Ms Schlafly, you provide almost no evidence to support your claims, you make choices that alienate your audience and that demonstrate you do not have a thorough knowledge of the subjects you discuss. These choices serve to make you appear foolish and uninformed, and in fact seem to suggest that your only real problem is with the idea that anyone but white Men might be good writers.
And one more thing, Ms Schlafly: experts on Shakespeare agree that his work is dripping with sexual innuendo, as well as issues of gender, race and class. If you truly care about the study of Shakespeare, you might wish to support contemporary English departments.
*I’m not joking. I would happily pit my students’ critical thinking skills and analysis against Schlafly’s. Just yesterday my talented, articulate students shredded this Irving Kristol essay for its failure to provide evidence and support for its claims.