As Meghan Cox Gurdon, a children’s books columnist at The Wall Street Journal, recently reported, Lawrence High School, a public secondary school in Massachusetts, successfully pulled the poet Homer from the curriculum. As ninth-grade teacher Heather Levine put it, “Hahaha — very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year.”
As Ms. Gurdon reports — though, if you have school-aged children (or kids in college), you’ve doubtless by this time noticed — a movement has long been underway to rethink and retool what our children read in school. The leaders of the charge have a funny, and wholly dishonest way of putting what they do in a democratic light.
Take the organization “Disrupt Texts,” which describes itself as “crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve.”
Now, what the creators of “Disrupt Texts” don’t like to underscore, of course, is that they themselves — in conjunction with corporate partners like Penguin Random House — are the arbiters of what should and should not be read in the classroom. For a consulting or speaking fee (of course!) they will, in fact, give you real-time instruction on how and what to think. That these so-called educators have the audacity to censor, excuse us, “disrupt,” the broad literary vistas that are the birthright of all children in America is the stuff of an authoritarian mindset.
And even though these snake-oil salespeople believe that Shakespeare “is not more ‘timeless’ than anyone else,” or that the poetry in “The Great Gatsby” can be replaced by, among other rap lyrics, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” where the erstwhile Brooklyn drug-dealer proclaims “I smoke skunk with my peeps all day, spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way,” one need not despair for the Western canon.
In times past, and for different reasons, Shakespeare, the Bible, Aristotle, Sappho, Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass — you name the author, female or male, White or Black, Jew and Christian alike — have come under siege from cultural authoritarians. It is always done in the name of some greater good and designed to rectify a wrong that a controlling group of grifters designate.
And yet, the Western canon persists, and will continue to persist, its font of wisdom inexhaustible and welcome to searchers of all backgrounds. We must never allow base, self-serving, would-be despots to pre-screen the wonders of that thoughtful world.
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