As a long-suffering teacher of English, I watch with dismay at what is happening in all too many colleges. When, in the not too distant future, I retire and become a former English teacher, who will replace me? Will they be eager, dedicated young people that believe in the canon, people willing and able to understand the difference between good art and mere entertainment—to say nothing of trendy tripe and propaganda—or will they be like this:
Penn English professor and Department Chair Jed Esty was surprised to find a large portrait of William Shakespeare waiting in his office.
A group of students removed the iconic portrait from the walls of Fisher- Bennett Hall and delivered it to Esty’s office after an English Department town hall meeting discussing the election, which took place on Thursday December 1. They replaced it with a photo of Audre Lorde, a black female writer.
The portrait has resided over the main staircase of Fisher-Bennett — home to Penn’s English Department — for years. The English Department voted to relocate and replace the portrait a few years ago in order to represent a more diverse range of writers, according to an emailed statement from Esty, who declined to be interviewed.
However, despite the vote, the portrait was left in the entranceway until recent events.
‘Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,’ Esty wrote in the email. He added that the image of Lorde will remain until the department reaches a decision about what to do with the space.
Ah! “A more inclusive mission for the English Department.” Inclusivity must obviously require the tearing down—often literally rather than figuratively—of the canon, of the most significant authors and works in English literature. Without their absence, more trendy authors obviously cannot be read.
Undergraduate Chair of the English Department Zachary Lesser declined to be interviewed, deferring to Esty’s email. Students involved in removing the portrait were unavailable for comment.
Hmm. Could that be because such actions aren’t academically, professionally defensible? Or perhaps they’re merely shy?
College junior Mike Benz, also an English major, agreed. He said that he thought the students’ action was bold and admirable, adding that the students acted in a positive way by taking matters into their own hands.
‘It is a cool example of culture jamming,’ Benz said.
How cool! “Culture jamming!” I’m sure future English teachers like Benz will help their students jam–whatever that might be–in new and cool ways, particularly when jamming involves tearing down foundations of the canon, as he explains:
Benz added that college curriculums typically focus on European and Western ideals, and outside texts can sometimes be ignored or set aside.
Can’t have those “European and Western ideals.” Why someone might get the idea they’re the foundation of the most successful, free and prosperous cultures and nations the world has yet produced.
Both Benz and Kvellestad said they were pleased that the English department voted to remove the portrait, despite the fact that it was ultimately the students who took it down.
‘I think it’s cool that Penn students stepped up and decided to get the ball rolling,’ Kvellestad said, adding that students have more license to take bold actions and ‘get the job done.
Well of course. Why shouldn’t college students do what they please with the property of others? Respect for private property is just another one of the antiquated European and Western ideals.
Esty emailed English majors and minors on Dec. 8 with the statement he released to the DP. He expressed the department’s dedication to exploring a diverse range of works, both old and new.
‘We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols,’ Esty wrote.
One suspects the next step will be the total banishment of Shakespeare from the English Curriculum, and students mandating what they will and will not learn, progressive steps already taken at other cutting edge universities. One wonders, obviously, what “the changing nature of authorship,” and “the political life of symbols,” might be, but hey, that’s the way they talk in the universities these days. It really doesn’t have to mean much of anything, and usually doesn’t, except ignoring the good, true and valuable in favor of the aggrieved, transitory, relative and trivial.
Kvellestad said the change reflects the values of the department and its students.
‘It’s always more symbolic with English majors,’ he said.
It wasn’t that way back in the 1400s when I was an English major. We struggled to find enough time to read and understand the tiny portion of the canon our short time in college afforded. Contemporary writing, particularly the kind of politically correct, racist, morally superior tripe that currently substitutes for meaningful literature in too many universities was relegated to lunch time discussions in the cafeteria. Professors had no time for it. Even now, I do my best to read the great works and authors, and to reread them, for in these works, there is always something to be learned no matter how many times one reads them. This is one of the marks of good art.
It, whatever “it” is at the English Department of Penn, wasn’t particularly symbolic for us either. Oh, we understood and discussed symbolism, but did not worship it for its own sake, nor did a particular political mindset define us. The pursuit of knowledge, and the ability to apply its lessons to a meaningful, moral life were what mattered to us, or at least, to most of us.
If this is an example of the kind of teachers of English that are due to be unleashed on unsuspecting parents and children in the near future, God help us all.