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Bring Back Some Works by the Dead White Males (and Females)

My daughter, a high school senior, is taking AP English. This class focuses on the study of literature. Unfortunately, the curriculum is so infected with political correctness and multiculturalism, the choice of literature leaves a great deal to be desired. My daughter, who has been an avid reader since her early elementary school years, finds this survey of literature abysmal. The books celebrate African, Asian, and Native American cultures while condemning all that belongs to Western Civilization. She started off reading Ceremony to raise her consciousness of Native Americans. She then went on to read The Road and see nuclear holocaust as the fruit of American policy. Next is When Things Fall Apart where she reads how Western colonialism destroyed African culture and drove the African protagonist to suicide. Upcoming titles include a Latin American drama, House of Spirits and the Oprah special, Beloved by Toni Morrison. Each of these may be interesting well-written books. However, in an introductory literature survey course, the selection should be focused on literature and not on making a political statement of inclusivity. How many of the aforementioned titles will still be in print after fifty or more years? Why don’t we focus on books that have withstood the test of time in order to learn the qualities of timeless literature? Once the basic tenets literary analysis are established, go ahead and design your ethnic or gender based literature surveys. How does the writing of Toni Morrison stack up against the writing of Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott? There are reasons some books become classics. Study those so that you have a metric by which to judge the works that follow.

Comments

I ran into this same problem when I was in high school. Thankfully they hadn't pulled Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, the Narnia series, or Lord of the Rings from the shelves yet. The teachers were also OK with my switching some of the books, like Ivan Denisovich for The Handmaid's Tale.
Anonymous said…
I had to read Things Fall Apart when I took AP Lit. Terribly boring.

Although, in fairness, Ibsen and Melville never grabbed me either, but at least we were compensated with Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

If they're going to teach token pieces of cultural literature, it makes sense to find something that's actually readable. It does ethnic minorities no credit to teach boring literature as shining examples of cultural achievement.
phbrown said…
I can't speak to most of the others, but _Things Fall Apart_ is good stuff (sorry, anonymous :-)). The theme of colonization is a Big Deal in lots of African literature, not just that. Of course, it helps if you get beyond the superficial reading of simply How The White Man Fouled Everything Up, and look for the more complex story that includes both the gains and the losses. Maybe it helped me that I read that book first in Kenya when I was working with (and, for that matter, being supervised by) Africans who unequivocally saw their Christianity (brought to that land by dead white European males) as a positive thing.

Peace,
--Peter
Catholic Mom said…
Peter,
I think you offer an important point. Reading the book while immersed in its culture offers a far different perspective than reading it in an academic setting where the aim seems to be to continually point out how Western Civilization has screwed things up for everyone else. I guess the point of my post is less a literary criticism of the individual books but rather an objection to the insertion of a political agenda into the curriculum.
Barb, sfo said…
English major here, stunned into silence.
I imagine that when Big Brother gets to senior year, his choices won't be much better. OOOO, I can hardly wait. I did find out that junior year, they will read Frankenstein, Brave New World and Grendel. This year he's got To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and The Crucible.
frival said…
I have to admit, that sounds a lot like my sophomore-level classes back in college. After about a month a group of us took to calling the class the "apology for the white male" series. It got to the point where we didn't even need to read the books to pass the tests, we simply needed to know which minority group was being oppressed and the papers and answers pretty much wrote themselves. Lit classes should make you think, not make you turn off your brain in favor of sleeping in.

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