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Canon Fodder

Yale undergraduates demand the right to be ignorant. June 7, 2016
Education

In New Haven, Connecticut, a group of undergraduates have just come up with a groundbreaking proposal. Their petition calls on Yale University’s English department to abolish a course on major writers and poets. The curriculum includes such figures as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, and William Shakespeare. “It is unacceptable,” the screed declares, “that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors.”

The trouble with the demand is not its petulance but its timidity. If the canonical English bards, novelists, and playwrights are to be minimized—or banished entirely—why stop there? If the protestors want to “decolonize the course, and focus the curriculum” to “deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism and ethnicity,” why not decolonize the entire university catalogue?

Manifestly, this purification of Western culture would have to include music. Out goes J.S. Bach, who was not only Caucasian but German, deeply religious, and straight (two wives, 20 children). The Teutonic Franz Josef Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms would join him on the proscribed list, along with the Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and such Italians as Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, and, it goes without saying, Antonio Vivaldi, the redheaded priest.

The dominant figures in painting and sculpture must also be scrubbed from the picture, just as Josef Stalin ordered “counter-revolutionaries” airbrushed from photographs. Arrivederci signors Michelangelo and Da Vinci; adieu messieurs Cezanne, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec (though the latter might be squeezed in under the ableism statute). Bon soir Monet, Manet, Picasso et. al.

Inventors must also be purged. Benjamin Franklin—who discovered electricity when he was not part of a government that employed slaves—Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, and all other heirs of white privilege, no matter how impoverished their beginnings, will vanish from the textbooks, available only to antiquarians.

But the statues that throw the longest shadows are those of scientists. These icons must be smashed head to toe. The Catholic Church couldn’t make Galileo disappear, but the petitioners are proudly—majestically—uninformed about history. Surely the statue of the astronomer can be knocked off its pedestal, and the entire pantheon spray-painted with progressive graffiti. Archimedes, who founded the study of physics; Rene Descartes and his mathematical formulae; Louis Pasteur and his germ theory; Charles Darwin and his writings on evolution; Isaac Newton; Albert Einstein; Enrico Fermi; Sigmund Freud, and so many others who built Western civilization—pale males from the colonizing nations, every last one.

But wait! Marie Curie could still be taught, not because of her work on radium of course, but because of her sex. Alan Turing, inventor of the computer, was gay. He can qualify as well; so can Stephen Hawking, who is differently abled indeed. But these are the exceptions. The others must join Shakespeare & Co. in the dustbin of history. What counts is not knowledge—that went out with the phone booth and the Polaroid camera. All that matters now are feelings of righteousness and a curriculum of inclusion.

Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, is credited with the aphorism, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” But that was decades ago. Today, thanks to the Eli agitators, ignorance has become synonymous with Yale.

Photo by UygarGeographic/iStock

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