Skip to main content

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.


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.

Catholic Mom said…
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.

Popular posts from this blog

Parent Letter from a Catechist

I am going to be teaching seventh grade CCD this year. We do most of the preparation for confirmation during this year since Confirmation is usually scheduled for the fall of the eighth grade year.I have composed a letter to the parents to try and keep them active in their children's religious education. I thought I would post it here and get your feedback before I send it out in a couple of weeks.

I am privileged to be your child’s seventh grade CCD teacher for the 2006-2007 school year. This is a very important year. We will focus on your child’s preparation for confirmation. Of course, you have already been preparing your child for this sacrament for many years. You are the primary catechist for your child. You show how important your Faith is by making Mass attendance a top priority and by family prayer.

Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a beginning. It is not a graduation. This year we will work to solidify the foundation of your child’s Catholic Faith.…

Dispelling the Myth of the Travel Dispensation

One of the fun things about having a site meter on my blog is I can see which posts garner the most attention. I can also see how people find my blog. One of the most read posts from my two years of blogging is this one that discusses finding Mass while traveling. I would like to think this post is so popular because it is so well written. The truth of the matter is that it generates so much traffic because I use the words “travel dispensation for Mass”—as in “There is no such thing as a travel dispensation for Mass.” I would guess that nearly a dozen times every week, someone googles “travel dispensation for Mass” and finds my blog. I wonder how many of these folks are poor souls trying to assuage their Catholic guilt with evidence of a justification for missing Mass while on the road.

I know that when I tell my seventh grade CCD students that attending Mass every Sunday is a commandment (one of the top ten!) and not just a pretty good idea they are amazed. Missing Mass has become so …

United Breaks Guitars

This guy is really talented and what a creative way to get your message across. I think he captured the "indifferent employee" perfectly. They don't just work for airlines. I think I ran into them at Walmart on Friday!