Yale English Majors: Stop Teaching Us About White Male Poets.

Yale English Majors: Stop Teaching Us About White Male Poets.

You know, ya just gotta wonder…

… and then they all flunked their graduate thesis for lack of basic familiarity with the cornerstones of western literature.

The course is called “Major English Poets”. Maybe the complainers should shuffle over to Comparative Studies of the Dumas, Father and Son, who by American rules could call themselves African-French. Or to “Literature in Arabic”, although I suspect they may also find those poets too white.

A liberal education used to have as its object the gradual development of an “intellectual aristocracy” that could guide the Nation with wisdom and foresight gained by intensive study of past achievements and failures of humanity (Thomas Jefferson had this in mind with his proposed system of public education). At a “lower” level, such education would produce a population of informed citizens who could maturely consider public issues and vote accordingly. Those who were so inclined would pursue a trade that would benefit their community.

The consistent thread running through this vision was that the students were to be turned outward from themselves and toward the greater good of society.

This concept of liberal education is now hanging on by its fingernails. It is being replaced by technical training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (which I have no problem with, by the way, provided that the humanities are equally supported and stressed). Modern education also has as a significant goal the production of extroverted “group participants” who can bring a “dynamic synergy” to their careers as corporate drones servicing the bottom line.

Finally, to the subject of the OP, modern education is also about affirming the students’ individual worth to themselves. Everything has to be multicultural and inoffensive, lest someone feel “oppressed” and/or “marginalized.” And what is the opposite of being “on the margins”? Why, being at the center, of course!

To sum up, then: whereas education used to be about preparing to serve a greater and more noble purpose than oneself, it is now about maximizing one’s own self and one’s advantages, in every possible way.

Even shorter: It’s now solipsism instead of service.

Every time I see a story like this, I become more and more convinced that all the trouble caused in colleges these days is from a group of people that clearly aren’t taking hard enough courses and have way too much time on their hands. I mean, when’s the last time a physicist or a chemist complained about having to learn a bunch of equations first put forth by a bunch of dead white men? Maybe complaining about having to memorize the equations, but not the source.

Yeah, it’s time to recognize the great black poets of the 14th-17th centuries, whose greatness was overshadowed by pretenders like Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton, struggling against the publishers’ color bar.

Sorry, the intro course for English Majors really needs to study those guys. Surely later classes can cast a wider net. Although sticking to English-language only is a bit restricting–why have these students chosen such a narrow major?

Oh Brother. Now we have to deal, with this… How long, Oh Lord? How long?

Agreed jtur88. The introductory course sequence is referred to as, “Major English Poets”. Gee, what are these “students”, missing?

No white male poet would be caught dead not using periods!

Not to spoil your regularly-scheduled dose of RO at those crazy college kids these days, but the petition doesn’t actually say what the OP says it does.

I think the kids may have a point on this one.

This is an introductory survey course, right? Not everyone taking it is even going to major in English; for some, this class will help them decide. Anyone writing a literature thesis is necessarily going to have a lot more courses between this and that.

English majors certainly need to study all these guys. But isn’t an introductory survey exactly the place to cast the widest net? One class can’t be sufficient to teach “Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and Eliot, among others.” Anyone who does study English literature in depth will be revisiting these figures anyway. What’s the harm in making room for Emily Dickinson or Langston Hughes?

[Insert reference to James Joyce here]

During my Yale undergrad days, I had an excellent course called “Poetics of the Late T’ang Dynasty.” The problem was it only included a bunch of Chinese poets from the ninth century. What th’ fuck, man?

Neither of them are English poets?

Aside from the fact that the entire statement is impregnated with PC, I take particular issue with this section:

Because we all know that classical poetry has nothing to do with critical theory or secondary scholarship. If you don’t like poetry or want to learn it, you’re not going to take the class anyway. If you do, realize that a classical education includes teaching of classical poets, the overwhelming majority of whom were white males, and deal with it.

Poor, poor, pitiful English majors…

Were they all men? All Han ethnicity? Probably not. You almost certainly studied Li Bai, for example. Maybe even Xue Tao.

Good point. The students just don’t want a Dead White Males course to be a required priority for literary studies.

One of my black friends there majored in Caribbean Lit, I studied the Late Romantic period in Europe, and I knew a guy at Stanford who focused solely on the poetry of the First World War. Chaucer wasn’t in the ballpark for any of us.

Still, my gut reaction is that soaking up a little Shakespeare and Milton would be good for th’ crazy kids these days. Might even introduce some sort of wacky pleasure into their lives.

I don’t think the petition is saying that the intro required courses ought not teach any white men. They’re saying that you shouldn’t be able to get through the major without reading some women and people of color.

I agree with them, but remember that you have to leave somebody out for every author you take in.

I love “Goblin Market,” but it ain’t “Paradise Lost.”