"Decolonize": Yale students circulate petition opposing white male "Major English Poets" requirement

Via Reason’s Robby Soave, who captured the campus activist mindset succinctly in another recent post about insanity at a different school. “The students … seem to think they’re not at college to be educated,” he wrote, but that “they are at college to educate everyone else.”

We have much to learn from these adult babies, my friends.

[W]e oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors. A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity. The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.

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 β€” not diversify β€” its course offerings.

No request for “dialogue” on campus is complete without a threat — these aren’t really requests, after all, they’re demands — and that comes later in the petition when the English department is warned that they’re “not immune from the collective call to action.” A writer at Slate cited by Soave tried reminding the students that Shakespeare and Milton et al. are canonical for a reason and that to read them is to lay the intellectual foundation on which one’s broader understanding of literature, western and otherwise, is built. But that misses the point. Again: They’re not there to learn. They’re there to teach, and teaching begins with an assertion of authority. (“We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.”) Or maybe I have the cause and effect mixed up. Maybe it’s the assertion of authority that’s important and educating the educators is merely the pretext for asserting it.

This is really just a highbrow version of lazy left-wing writers online grumbling lately that James Bond, a different type of canonical literary figure, should be black or female in future movies. Ace wrote a post marveling at the sheer lack of imagination involved in that. Why not create a new secret agent, he wondered, make him — or her — black, and have them rescue Bond from some predicament? Why insist on coopting Bond when you can do your own thing? The answer, obviously, is because cooptation is the point. Anyone can write a spy movie; anyone can introduce new, diverse characters. Writing the future is easy. Rewriting the past is where the real power is. Why would anyone with enough political power to seize the prestige of some foundational text or character and remake it to promote their agenda prefer to create something new? That’s the sort of thing you might do if you were interested in literature for its own sake. What really interests them about the canon is the question of who enjoys the authority to declare what’s canonical. Why not adult babies all of 20 years old?

I’m kind of surprised Trump hasn’t used campus insanity to greater effect on the trail, to be honest. Higher education is the most preposterously politically correct institution in American life. It’s right in his wheelhouse. Even anti-Trumpers like me would be sympathetic to him extending a middle finger to cultural Stalinists. It’s a terrific wedge issue vis-a-vis Hillary too, since she needs to pander to these children for their votes. Make her answer, since she’s a Yale alumna and all: Is the “Major English Poets” course, the bedrock of literary education in the west, too white and male? If Trump’s really lucky, college activists will take his criticism as a challenge and will start turning out in greater numbers to protest him, with results similar to the fiasco in Chicago months ago. That would also work to Trump’s advantage by pitting the authoritarian populist against the vanguard of the radical anti-western elite with undecided voters effectively left to choose between them. He’s got nothing to lose.