Suzanne Fields

Just when we think the political culture can't get any more correct, new evidence surfaces of enhanced goofiness at our most expensive universities. We're supposed to think the price is right(eousness).

My favorite example is a freshman English course at Williams College entitled "Green World," which deals with the environment and explores "ways in which literature has constructed and interpreted the green-written word."

Environmental exploitation is illustrated with the identification of "the archetypal symbol of man's desire to transform chaos into civilization and art - to tame, order, idealize and copy nature's bounty while humanizing plundering and destroying the environment." (Italics mine.)

The young scholars will no doubt expose Wordsworth for the devastation he brought to the landscape by daring to dance with the daffodils. MacBeth might be alive today if his enemies hadn't cut down all those trees in Birnam Wood.

Such nonsense is not isolated. The Independent Women's Forum, a Washington think tank of thinking women, investigated the top 10 liberal arts colleges, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report's annual college guide. They found many freshmen courses brain dead on arrival.

Traditional introductory literature and history courses, which once provided a freshman with a foundation of basic knowledge and an overview to draw on as a point of reference for more profound analyses in advanced courses, are mostly absent altogether. They've been denounced, denigrated and debunked in a free fall of reinterpretation, and put into academicspeak that would be more appropriate for the Tower of Babel than for an ivy tower.

In place of traditional literature, these universities offer trendy, sexy, politicized examinations of Western "imperialism" and "exploitation," victim studies of gender and identity, and parochial ethnic studies with a stultifying point of view that reduces the breadth and depth of information.

Amherst's history department, for example, offers "Race and Nation in the U.S.-Mexican Borderland," an overview of pre-1600 Japan, the Middle East from 600 to 1800, and "Women's History, America: 1607-1865." But there's not a single freshman overview course to examine the fundamental events of Western civilization.

If "Green World" whets an appetite for literature, a freshmen English course at Swarthmore will have students standing in line to get into a class called "Illicit Desires in Literature," which examines "literary expressions of sexual desires from the 17th century to the present day."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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