Welcome back, dead white males

Welcome back, dead white males  writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory professor of English, in a New York Daily News op-ed. Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states plus D.C., require students to “demonstrate knowledge of 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century foundational works of American literature,” as well as foundational historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence. It’s about time, writes Bauerlein.

For bookish types and patriotic citizens, too, the canon of Ben Franklin’s “Autobiography,” Emerson’s essays, “The Scarlet Letter” and “Huck Finn” is a personal inspiration as well as a sacred heritage.

But to the people in control of high school English — those who craft standards, select anthologies, monitor curricula and teach classes — that great tradition is not a treasure. It’s a threat.

Until the 20th century, they note, nearly all authors were white males, and the cultures in which they thrived cast females and people of color as inferior.

In the last 30 years, high school students have read quota-driven anthologies instead of classic literature, Bauerlein writes.

We’re told that female, black and brown students must encounter inspiring female, black and brown characters and authors — or else they won’t realize that they can become successful adults.

English teachers have to comply, whether they like it or not. Common Core gives teachers “a solid defense against identity quotas in the classroom,” Bauerlein writes.

Via Core Knowledge Blog.

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  1. The key is to get kids to read. There’s nothing magical in a curriculum that focuses on one group of authors over another.

    My public school teachers were abysmal at teaching Shakespeare. Then I saw a Royal Shakespeare Company production and… wow. I suspect that including Shakespeare in public middle and high school public curricula has done more to set back the cause of ‘dead white authors’ than any omission of a “classic” in favor of a more inclusive reading list.

    Further, why shouldn’t a modern author like Margaret Atwood make it onto a high school reading list? Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? For that matter, is “Too Kill a Mockingbird” too girly to keep on the approved reading list? Alex Haley, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, Piri Thomas, James Baldwin, Gary Soto, Langston Hughes, Sandra Cisneros…. The author seems to have a real issue with the inclusion of the work of women and people of color, but offers no explanation for why he believes there’s special magic in the work of white men that can only be gleaned from whatever books are on his personally approved reading list.