Friday, November 15, 2002

Disturbed, yes. Surprised? No.

Well, looks like Duke is reorganizing its english major requirements. The entire department has been in a state of disarray for several years now--the defunct journal Lingua Franca published a scathing report a few years back on what Stanley Fish did to the department during his tenure as head which I'm gonna have to go locate again someday--so this editorial in The Chronicle is a nice surprise. Well, except for the actual requirements:

The English major has been sorely in need of reorganization and additional focus. Currently, the requirements are somewhat haphazard and do not provide students with sufficient guidance about what courses or types of courses to take. And the general idea of the English department to add coherency through clusters of three consecutive courses, each building off the one before, is a strong model around which to base a meaningful educational experience.

The English department should think very carefully about what types of clusters it offers. Currently, the proposed clusters--which include the history of the book, creative writing, theory of the novel, gender and sexuality, the science of literature and psychoanalysis and literature--seem somewhat tangentially related to the study of English literature per se. Perhaps the English department should consider clustering studies around time periods, nationalities, or genres of literature rather than on these more esoteric subjects

Here we reap the rewards of multi-culti equivalence--don't want to appear ethno or gender-centric, so we can't possibly organize the large clusters around time periods dominated by white men! No one else will be represented! Never mind that confronting the realities of the past might be instructive in itself--we must reconstruct reality to fit our utopian vision, or to point out the eeeeevil that is the DWEM (dead white euro male). Bleh. It would be amusing if it weren't so damn stupid.

Call me old fashioned, but when I was an undergraduate whippersnapper, we had to take the large survey courses before we could even THINK about going in-depth. And then, in-depth really only concerned a particluar time period and country. I guess the philosophy of the time was that you needed a broad overview of literature before you could specialize--and at any rate, specialization was best left for the post-graduate career. Nowadays, you can just jump right in to any tiny marginalized aspect of literature with no idea about the larger themes, movements, literary works and historical events that surrounded or inspired it. The professor of the class bears the burden of providing all relevant background, instead of being able to count on a pool of students with at least rudimentary knowledge concerning the literature's situation in culture and history. And I don't know about you, but I can see a correlation between the idea of studying only the tiny bits of the picture that conform to a student's narrow interests and narrow-minded, myopic college graduates with little understanding and less tolerance. I'll leave you with this paragraph:

In this vein, one disappointing aspect of the new English curriculum is its de-emphasis on some of the central figures of English literature--Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton. Currently, English majors must take at least one class on one of these authors. However, under the new system, one can major in English without having read anything by any of them. In order to ensure that English majors receive a complete education in the Western tradition, perhaps the English department should institute requirements stressing the importance of these authors.

Ya think? Naaaah, don't wanna hurt anybody's widdle feewings by stressing one author over another. Don't you know that Shakespeare and Amiri Baraka are both just poets? They're equal! It's all just a matter of taste anyway! Freedom of expression is what counts! Don't oppress me with your Elizabethan hegemony! Blah, blah, blah, sigh.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Hearts and Flowers and Other Stupid Crap

Inspired by this post from Critical Mass about competition within diversity movements on campus, I thought I'd share with you a conversation between myself and a colleague. This took place after the large Student Affairs beginning of the year program, in which we were told that Diversity (by which they meant specifically racial diversity, and even more specifically black/white relations) was going to be a major focus for the division this year (as opposed to every other year, but whatever).

Me: So, what's up with the big diversity thing this year?

Colleague: Remember that student who went all nuts about racial discrimination last year?

Me: But I thought she was crazy. As in, actually certifiable.

Colleague: Oh, she was. But it's apparently "indicative" of a "disturbing trend." My colleague is good at invoking air quotes via vocal inflection.

Me: Huh. Think we're overreacting much?

Colleague: Tell me about it. I mean, this year's diversity focus was supposed to be on GLBT issues. What do we have to do, threaten someone to get equal time?


Yep, it's all hearts and flowers until someone's pet issue gets the shaft. Can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Blog, Blog, Blog...

No, I am not dead, merely medicated. Recently discovered Fact About Myself: As far as my body is concerned, Sudafed is the chemical equivalent of crystal meth. Wooo! I hope to have cleared my brain sufficiently of medication by tomorrow, because today I am too groggy and lightheaded to muster any sarcastic indignation at crap like a 30 person anti-war protest held on VETERAN'S DAY. Note to protesters--it's called decorum, and in civilized nations it takes precedence over that ironic symbolism you're so damn fond of.

Funny sidebar--30 protesters, 20-30 spectators. And get the closeup view of the photo--can anyone tell me what the hell Make It, Buy It, Forgo It means?