Yale Students Call For Abolishment Of Prerequisite Course Featuring White Male Authors Like Chaucer and Shakespeare

200px-yale_university_shield_1svgWe have been discussing the erosion of free speech and academic standards at our universities and colleges. What is alarming is not only the pace of such demands but the support of some faculty to stripping away core courses and historical references. The latest such example can be found at Yale University with undergraduate students have demanded that the English department abolish the prerequisite course requirement to study such writers as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. Students claim that it is “unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors.” Of course, this is not the only course for students but simply one course designed to introduce students to “major English poets.” However, the students find it oppressive and some faculty support their cause like English Professor Jill Richards who insisted that “it is unacceptable that the two-semester requirement for all majors routinely covers the work of eight white, male poets.” The students have demanded that “It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings.”


200px-ShakespeareYale requires that English majors spend two semesters studying a selection of “major English poets”: “Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne in the fall; John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot or another modern poet in the spring.” The course is meant to “provide all students with a generous introduction to the abiding formal and thematic concerns of the English literary tradition.”

Yet, the students have denounced the course as oppressive and dehumanizing: “A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity . . . The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color. When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong.”

Adriana Miele, Assistant to Director of Communications at Yale University Library, insists that “it is possible to graduate with a degree in English language and literature by exclusively reading the works of (mostly wealthy) white men. Many students do not read a single female author in the two foundational courses for the major. This department actively contributes to the erasure of history.” Of course, nothing prevents students from taking the many courses featuring women or minority writers.

The concern with such petition is that universities and colleges seem willing to abandon core curriculum and core standards to appease protesters claiming racism or sexism or the ill-defined notion of “micro aggressions.” As someone who took the core curriculum at the University of Chicago (one of the most influential common core programs), I have long benefitted from the foundation given to me as an undergraduate. We also read an array of non-Western works. The irony is that, after struggling to gain admission to Yale, students are seeking to dismantle a world-class educational tradition.

It is possible to read classics while placing them into a greater historical and literary context. That is very essence of education and the understanding that comes from it. At the risk of quoting a white male writer, Shakespeare did caution in As You Like It that “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

51 thoughts on “Yale Students Call For Abolishment Of Prerequisite Course Featuring White Male Authors Like Chaucer and Shakespeare

  1. Bettykath…
    “Woe the poor student” who “are blasted for suggesting changes that challenge yhe status quo.”
    The Daily Beast had an article on the craziest demands of college students.
    You may want to read it before wasting your pity on these delicate flowers.

  2. Everyone should read some Shakespeare. Defined the English language. Also some of the King James bible for the same reason.

  3. Nobody has called for the abolishment of a course. They simply don’t want it to be a prerequisite. Jonathan Turley is lying, as usual.

  4. This is the inevitable goal of those who seek to turn literature and the arts into politics and propaganda. Literature–sorry, brats–is not about your political agenda or mine. Literature is not about being fair or filling quotas or making sure no one is offended. If you want that sort of thing, go to Congress or your local Church. Stop confusing art with politics!!! Literature is about opening our eyes to who and what we are, about exposing the human condition THROUGH LANGUAGE. It is about being shown the best and the worst of humanity through the excellent use of language. Language is the vehicle. Language and words are the medium. And those who wield these words most masterfully and mightily win the laurels. You don’t get there by being black or white, gay or straight. A poem doesn’t give a damn about that. Poems and drama and novels and short stories are about exposing our human condition, not about directing the reader to do or say this or that, or what charity to support or what cause to espouse. Literature does not say “DO THIS, FIX THIS, IMPROVE THIS”; it says, “SEE THIS, WATCH THIS, NOTICE WHAT YOU ARE, CAN YOU STAND IT?” Literature is the court jester mocking the King. Some today might think the King should have had the jester executed or (if he were a jester from Yale) educated or put on a macrobiotic regimen or sent to sensitivity training classes, but the wisest of kings kept the fool with them! For they knew that the moment they stopped laughing at themselves, they were no longer human. Yale needs a refresher course in the difference between literature and politics. I would be glad to teach it if no one else will. It is hard even for me to find a parallel to an English major trying to get rid of Shakespeare. Shakespeare himself might come up short trying to express the irony of that one. But I’ll try. To dismiss the highest aesthetic achievement in the English language while purporting to be studying the glories of the English language is very like a young medical student who is burning to learn anatomy but wants the use of cadavers for study abolished. You might as well expect fishermen to want water done away with, or gardeners dirt. But I give them too much credit. There is a very simple reason they can dismiss Shakespeare and Chaucer so easily. It is because they do not and have not seen these authors as imaginative geniuses providing readers and audiences the highest of aesthetic merit; they see them as pushing causes, advancing agendas–as though Shakespeare and Chaucer were no more than a couple of hardened lobbyists trying to get Parliament to keep white men in power. But when Hamlet holds up Yorick’s skull and stares into its eyeless sockets and taps dirt out of it and whispers into that part of it where its ears once were,

    “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let
    her paint an inch thick, to this favor [face] she must come;
    make her laugh at that,”

    we are struck–we, not this group or that group, but all of humanity–by the truth of what Shakespeare is showing us. We may ply and primp and face-lift and shift and turn and put on an inch thick of makeup–nonetheless, we shall all return someday to the eyeless skull of Yorick, for we too are mortal and we too will be naught but fleshless bone. This is a call to all mankind, not to white or black, lesbian or straight. If you are expecting to die some day, this is for you. Attend to me, man; I am TRUTH. I could give a thousand of such examples of aesthetic might and facility with language, but it would apparently be wasted on the minds of such as attend Yale. And it would be to insult the memory of this great poet who needs not my defense to stand up on his own. The English majors at Yale are either ignorant or willfully stupid. They cannot be in their right minds. But, alas, to know what madness truly is, they would have to turn to King Lear, wouldn’t they? And we don’t want top offend anyone. Institutions of higher learning?

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