That America is going stupid is no secret. Liberal arts education, of course, is in disrepute because it doesn’t help you get a job with a call-answering service. Grade inflation is turning everybody into an instant genius. And why read something in Elizabethan English? Couldn’t #Shakespeare just limit himself to 140 characters, or what?
The two articles I saw were, oddly enough, on the web sites of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Post ran an article by a high school teacher called “Why I don’t want to assign Shakespeare anymore (even though he’s in the Common Core),” in which Shakespeare is described as a “long-dead British guy.” I guess that was her multiple choice answer.
The reasoning included the fact that Shakespeare is white, not all that easy to read and “lived in a pretty small world.” I wonder what she thinks of William Faulkner, whose novels and short stories were all set in a single fictional county in Mississippi. The teacher also laments that there’s a wider world of authors out there that ought to be taught, in place of Shakespeare, of course.
That this zero sum view of literature–if you introduce Shakespeare you must be dissing someone else–is common to the kind of complaint about dead white people running culture. That Shakespeare is not relevant harkens back to the 60s, when any number of courses were deemed unimportant if unrelated to the superior life-experiences of students.
Isn’t it possible that Shakespeare is relevant both because of his story-telling genius and also his importance to the development of language itself and literature that followed? This teacher, who presumably teaches English, seems not to really like English, what with its colonial overtones, the slave owners who spoke it and what all.
For the record, there are plenty of other authors and works whose influence reached well-beyond their era. And some weren’t British!! Dante practically invented Italian. Why not trash him? Or Cervantes, whose “Don Quixote de la Mancha” was in fact the first novel? “One-thousand And One Nights” embodies the passion (and raciness) of Arabic story-telling and poetry–let’s keep that away from the kids. How about “Dream of the Red Chamber,” China’s classic 18th novel, that influences Chinese writing styles up through today? The the anti-Shakespeare teacher undoubtedly would have sympathized with Mao’s Cultural Revolutionaries who banned Red Chamber as a relic of the past (dead Chinese men?) that lacked relevancy to the needs of workers and peasants.
And what to make of the NYTimes article entitled “Stop Revering Magna Carta”? The gist of this one is this: the Medieval document did not really constrain the absolute rule of monarchs, nor solve every other problem the complaining author–a college professor yet–deems important. Worst of all, the Magna Carta was the result “of an intra-elite struggle” and therefore can not really be considered a foundation stone of democracy.
The fact that over the centuries other people held up the Magna Carta as a beacon lighting the road to liberty bothers him a lot. Oy.
(He also claims the Brits themselves don’t revere it much–he’s wrong. He calls this year’s UK 800th anniversary celebrations of its creation “hyped-up.”)
Both these screeds have one thing in common: Nothing can be learned from the past. Foundations of culture and law are figments of an elite that has foisted them on us dummies. Only the now is relevant and whatever the student wants to learn or not is okay by me.
I realize the two newspapers printed this tripe as mid-brow click-bait. Can’t we have click bait that actually has something interesting to say and not just stuff that revels in pet peeves and promotes ignorance?
Well, I guess this is my pet peeve. I look forward to lots of clicks.
I’m not linking to these dumb two articles.