>Child_Lit is currently enjoying one of those pearl-clutching reports about the abysmal state of American education, this one taking on colleges that do not require English majors to take a course in Shakespeare but allow them to study such horrors as queer theory and children’s literature.
Let’s start with the sheer–and shrill–irrationality of comparing required courses to elective ones. The report doesn’t claim that Shakespeare isn’t being taught, only that courses devoted to him are elective, signalling a dumbing-down in English education that has occurred since . . . well, since when, exactly? The report states but provides no evidence that required classes in Shakespeare used to be the order of the day. It also specifically excludes from the discussion courses that include Shakespeare among others, so a course devoted to English writing of the Elizabethan era, for example, does not count.
The attack on children’s literature, critical theory, etc. is completely predictable: it’s the same card the Music Man played when warning the good people of River City of the dangers of “Captain Billy’s Whiz-bang Book.” But even old-school English majors inclined to go along with the sympathies of the report must be embarrassed that nowhere does it ever say why English majors need a mandatory course called Shakespeare. It wants us to take his authority on their word. That’s education?
What the report is really trying to do is to use “Shakespeare” as a word to bully people. The report knows that most people pay Shakespeare the same lip service they do to Mozart, PBS, art museums and public libraries: people know they are supposed to consider these things “cultural” and important even if in real life they wouldn’t be caught dead actually giving these institutions any genuine attention. The report isn’t worried that Shakespeare isn’t been taught (it concedes that he is), just that students aren’t being forced to read him. What the American Council of Trustees and Alumni really wants is that students be taught obedience and unquestioning respect for authority. It wants people to do as they’re told.