A disturbing new theater in the cultural war-front made headlines last week.
‘Woke” English teachers now want to ban Shakespeare from the curriculum due to his atrociously outdated lack of sensitivity toward oppressed minorities.
This isn’t the first time, by far, that his texts have come under fire.
In fact, while teaching in a conservative school district, I once was reprimanded for pointing out to high-school freshmen the racy double-meanings of certain Shakespearean wordplay.
Incidentally, I still stand by my defense: 1) that an awareness of the innuendo is essential to a full textual appreciation of Romeo and Juliet, 2) that it makes the work more relatable and engaging, and 3) that it pales in comparison to what the students themselves tend to yell through the hallways.
That said, I come not to offer yet another apologia for the Bard’s more controversial aspects—nor for those in any of the other canonical works under attack (some of which, I have defended in the past).
These cancel-culture philistines do that job well enough on their own. Their miserable, incurious, unimaginative and perpetually offended existence serves as a cautionary tale to the rest of us for what a world sans Shakespeare would be like.
However, I will take the occasion of their idiocy to indulge in a bit of intellectual onanism—which I hope will illustrate, in due time, why their politically-correct alternatives are a poor substitute for the oft-challenging but universally important lessons found in classical literature.
Out, Out, Brief Candle…
I am revolted by the whole #DisruptTexts operation for a variety of reasons—personal, political, pedagogical and philosophical. But topping the list is that these social-justice warriors represent the very antithesis of what a teacher should be.
They bear not the torch of knowledge to pass on to their pupils but rather the snuffer, to extinguish the eternal flame of humanity that they were tasked so dearly with preserving.
In all likelihood, they are the product of multiple generations’ worth of indoctrination and educational malpractice, handed down successively from one failed teacher to the next.
Of course, it is quite possible that the Chinese communist party has its hooks not just in the mandatory education programs where these teachers receive their training, but also in the classroom grants and other school-funding sources they rely upon for their instruction.
In that case, this farcical hashtag movement—along with efforts like the Oregon Department of Education’s equally ludicrous “Pathway to Math Equity“—may be part of a more deliberate and sinister scheme to effect the failure of America’s education system from within and, hence, to debase our entire way of life.
As a cynic by nature, though—and as someone with firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of public education—I think such a theory gives too much credit to the average educator.
Like the well-known adage goes, “Those who can’t do teach.”
By extension, teachers who lack sufficient content knowledge to provide instruction on a given subject must, instead, focus on teaching something else.
And as universities supplant all analytical reasoning and empirical thought processes with reactive, political navel-gazing and liability avoidance, those will, in turn, become the new cornerstones of the curriculum.
Thus, it is time for an updated, 21st-century version of the old axiom: “Those who can’t think teach.”
Lessons in Life
Today’s Venn Diagram : From our friends in the Dystopian Literature Program pic.twitter.com/Jn6P4kHABx
— Philosophy Matters (@PhilosophyMttrs) March 29, 2020
The decline of English instruction has been marked by an emphasis on “skills based” metrics, such as underlining particular figures of speech in a passage to prepare for what students might encounter on a standardized Common Core test.
This approach sucks the very life-blood from a work, distilling its prose into some kind of binary code, in which there is only one right answer (although Common Core tests often get even the one right answer wrong).
On the contrary, literature must live and breathe in shades of nuance and interpretation—as an organic, ever-evolving relationship between author and reader.
Several times in recent months, I have had the surprise of seeing life imitate art, drawing upon my past experiences with fiction to process and understand the complexities of our modern reality.
For instance, I wrote in October about how the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was an allegory for what we have come to recognize, in modern parlance, as “the big lie” (itself the title of a 1951 anti-Soviet propaganda film).
And don’t get me started on dystopian stories like Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.”
Not long ago, I taught those works thinking they offered a good pretext for delving into certain historical events. But I never imagined that our own lives would soon come to mirror them in far too many ways.
During the interview, Karl badgered Scalise about a visit to see former president Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Apropos of nothing, the biased newscaster insisted on asking if the congressman (and former victim of left-wing political violence) had pressed Trump to take responsibility for the Jan. 6 uprising at the US Capitol.
Scalise did not take the bait. Nonetheless, the phony premise of the question was aggravating enough. Why ought Trump, who was giving voice to the grievances of millions of Americans, be solely responsible for what occurred—particularly after the recent Senate trial already established his innocence?
Why are we not pressing harder on those who either tacitly condoned or openly endorsed civil unrest for months leading up to the Capitol rally to assume their share of responsibility?
There has been little mainstream-media focus on the hypocrisy of Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters, Ayanna Pressley, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder and a litany of others who raised no objections to the waves of violence that served their own agenda.
Yet, their hostile, dangerous rhetoric did not occur in a vacuum. It was they, above all, who incited right-wing Trump supporters to do exactly what they had called for others to do to conservatives.
Their own culpability is direct, not indirect, in ginning up the threat against them at the Capitol.
I first encountered “The Quiet Man” as a high school freshman. The central theme of the story (and the John Wayne movie it inspired) is simple enough: If you provoke even the gentlest, most reasonable of souls for long enough, sooner or later, you will get the fight that you asked for.
It’s the same hubris one sees in Shakespeare’s tragic figures, who ignore all the omens and continue tempting fate by recklessly allowing their own passions or ambitions to guide them.
Much like those in politics who choose to live wantonly in the moment while denying the unintended consequences of their actions and rhetoric, these tragic heroes invariably set in motion an irreversible chain of events that results in their own suffering and demise—and, oftentimes, that of many others around them.
In Shakespeare’s Verona—a tinderbox of unrest not unlike the one we now inhabit—it is a simple but insulting gesture, the biting of a thumb, that ultimately leads six characters to their graves by the end of Romeo and Juliet.
But if that’s too complex a lesson for the daft, Marxist M.Ed. set to grasp, perhaps we can reduce it for them to a more basic, easy-to-digest moral. As Antigonus learned in The Winter’s Tale: “Don’t poke the bear.”
Follow Ben Sellers on Parler at parler.com/profile/Sellers.