Slate, last week: The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway, by Katy Waldman. Specifically discussing the curriculum at Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut.
This addresses the efforts for some decades now to expand English major college curricula to include multicultural voices, as opposed to the standard lists of works by “dead white men” — Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Wordsworth, Eliot. The writer’s point is in the title, with some defense of particular writers, e.g. Shakespeare.
My first thought on reading this is, that to the extent that our American culture is derived from centuries or even millennia of European history, it’s inescapable that our literary history is dominated by ‘white men’, who of course by now are dead. (Presumably literary culture and curricula in other countries are quite different.) It is only in the past century or two that American culture (the Slate article is about Yale) has been greatly influenced by non-white people. And I have no problem with curricula that might expand to include non-white and worldwide voices, in addition to those voices who were prominent at the time of America’s founding.
But my second thought is that I have exactly the same reaction about the Bible, which I’ve been working my way through (for the first time in my life). I truly think the world would be a better place if scrubbed clean of this ancient artifact of violent, primitive times and transparently childish myths, but if your job (as an English major, or as a student of culture or history) is to understand where the present came from, you can’t avoid examining what happened in the past.
Yet another study that invites one to wonder what Americans mean when they think their country is the greatest in the world.
… if all the world’s a stage, America is a prime player: a rich, loud, attention-seeking celebrity not fully deserving of its starring role, often putting in a critically reviled performance and tending toward histrionics that threaten to ruin the show for everybody else. (Also, embarrassingly, possibly the last to know that its career as top biller is in rapid decline.) To the outside onlooker, American culture—I’m consolidating an infinitely layered thing to save time and space—is contradictory and bizarre, hypocritical and self-congratulatory. Its national character is a textbook study in narcissistic tendencies coupled with crushing insecurity issues.
- America is in the middle of the pack, right at the global median, about the importance of religion in people’s lives. (Poor African and south Asian countries rank highest; wealthy European and Asian countries rank lowest.)
- The US has the highest teen pregnancy rate among wealthy countries. (Due no doubt to religious objections in the US to sex education and birth control.)
- On the theme of luck and Robert H. Frank’s book, recently mentioned, the US, among advanced nations, disagrees most with the idea that success is determined by outside forces. That is, Americans are more likely to believe in self-determination, that the wealthy deserve their lot in life, that they built it.
- Americans believe in the freedom to pursue life’s goals without interference, over society’s role to guarantee that nobody is in need, by a wide margin over other European nations. (Irony, as the article notes: “Red states, the poorest and neediest in the country, are the recipients of the most federal dollars. Those conservative sections of the country vote overwhelmingly for politicians who want to cut Medicare and Social Security or who believe we should increase the retirement age…”) WWJD?
- In contrast to these obvious trends, the US is almost at the top of the list of nations who would allow citizens to criticize their governments.
Finally, in case you need a reason to discredit anything Rush Limbaugh might ever have to say, and ignore him forever more: