The bad news is that Shakespeare has disappeared from required courses in English departments at more than three-fourths of the top 25 U.S. universities, but the good news is that only 1.6 percent of America's 19 million undergraduates major in English, according to Department of Education figures. When I visit college campuses, students for years have been telling me that the English departments are the most radicalized of all departments, more so than sociology, psychology, anthropology, or even women's studies.
That's why it was no surprise that Cho Seung-Hui, the murderer of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, was an English major.
In the decades before "progressive" education became the vogue, English majors were required to study Shakespeare, the pre-eminent author of English literature. The premise was that students should be introduced to the best that has been thought and said.
What happened? To borrow words from Hamlet: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." Universities deliberately replaced courses in the great authors of English literature with what professors openly call "fresh concerns," "under-represented cultures," and "ethnic or non-Western literature." When the classics are assigned, they are victims of the academic fad called deconstructionism. That means: pay no mind to what the author wrote or meant; deconstruct him and construct your own interpretation, as in a Vanderbilt University course called "Shakespearean Sexuality," or "Chaucer: Gender and Genre" at Hamilton College.
The facts about what universities are teaching English majors were exposed this year by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. English majors are offered a potpourri of worthless courses.
Some English department courses are really sociology or politics. Examples are "Gender and Sociopolitical Activism in 20th Century Feminist Utopias" at Macalester College; "Of Nags, Bitches and Shrews: Women and Animals in Western Literature" at Dartmouth College; and "African and Diasporic Ecological Literature" at Bates College.
Many undergraduate courses focus on extremely specialized subjects of interest only to the professor who is trying to "publish or perish," but of virtually no value to students. Examples are: "Beast Culture: Animals, Identity, and Western Literature" at the University of Pennsylvania; and "Food and Literature" at Swarthmore College.
Some English departments offer courses in pop culture. Examples are: "It's Only Rock and Roll" at the University of California San Diego; "Animals, Cannibals, Vegetables" at Emory University; "Cool Theory" at Duke University; and "The Cult of Celebrity: Icons in Performance, Garbo to Madonna" at the University of Pennsylvania.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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