by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a petition to the English department, Yale undergraduates declare that a required two-semester seminar on Major English Poets is a danger to their well-being. Never mind that the offending poets – Shakespeare, Chaucer, Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, et al. – are the foundational writers in the English language. It’s as if chemistry students objected to learning the periodic table or math students rose up against the teaching of differential calculus.
The root of the plaint against the seminar is, of course, the usual PC bean-counting, where prodigious talents who have stood the test of time and explore the deepest questions about what it means to be human are found wanting because they wouldn’t be suitable models for a United Colors of Benetton ad.
The petition whines that “a year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.”
This is a variation on the widespread belief on campus that unwelcome speech is tantamount to a physical threat. In this case, the speech happens to be some of the most eloquent words written in the English language. One can only pity the exceedingly fragile sensibility it takes to feel assaulted by, say, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.”
The petition’s implicit contention is that the major poets are too circumscribed by their race and gender to speak to today’s socially aware students, when, in point of fact, it is the students who are too blinkered by race and gender to marvel at great works of art.