I was sitting in class today, just like I do most days, and my professor said something that struck me so hard I may never forget it. This may not be a big deal to most people but for someone who has spent a significant portion of their life dedicated to the written word and what it means to the world this means a lot.
The class I was sitting in is called Critical Theory. This is where we take theories such as Marxism and queer theory and we apply it to a piece of literature like Heart of Darkness for example. The class only has an average of 12-14 students and each students has to teach one of the topics. For those of you who hate public speaking… this would be a struggle, trust me.
The best part about this class is who it is taught by. I may be giving the impression that I really like the professor… well, yes and no. Him and I have had a couple run ins in the past and now we have one of those sarcastic “I’m not sure how I feel about you” relationships. He is a brilliant man but this is his last class before retirement, which means that he doesn’t care at all what he says. If you can just picture him in his brown suit jacket with elbow patches, his bow tie, glasses, and the whitest hair imaginable. I’m actually not going to say his name because he made a request that no one writes about him online. In his words we are the generation that posts our lives online and does nothing but send each other nudes via text message.
Anyways, his lectures are always really interesting and today was just as interesting as any other. For some reason we were talking about how literature is more than just what’s on the page. Literature is about where it comes from, when it comes from, who published it, why they picked the packaging they did, was it successful, and so on. A big part of what we focus on is the history of a piece of literature. What he told us today is that our department (Arts – English) met with the Dean and the Vice Dean the other day to talk about the material being taught in the program. Apparently the history (which is what makes up literature by the way) should no longer be taught. In this day and age 18 year old kids coming into university don’t care about history. It was suggested that more film should be taught… but not black and white… it should all be colour. Now, there is a reason why these suggestions were made and it makes me so sad. It is because kids coming out of high school are actually considered to be closed minded… according to studies. If you asked an 18 year old what a spinster is… chances are they would have no idea even though it is a term from only a few decades ago. The new generation judges people of history so much that they do not want to learn about them anymore. They don’t want to know that a single woman used to be called a spinster, that there are languages that we cherish today that used to only be considered dialects because they weren’t valued, that a woman who slept around was considered a fallen woman, and the list goes on. These are things that heavily influence literature and how we see the world BUT the new generation doesn’t care. My department is being asked to please this new generation and not focus as much on where things come from, how they came to be, etc, because to them it doesn’t matter. Now I know there are exceptions. To all you 18 year olds out there who love literature and history, good for you. My professor was actually told that the faculty members that kept teaching literature with an emphasis on its history would eventually not be teaching anymore because they would become irrelevant.
I’m hoping that there are people out there who are as outraged about this as I am. We have because an age of internet, nude text messages (according to my professor), and we are slowly losing the ability to connect with other people due to the barriers we put up ourselves (our cellphone screens, our headphones, computers, etc). Now we are thinking of disconnecting ourselves from the history that makes us who we are. What happens to amazing pieces like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Mark On The Wall, Moby Dick…. they’re history so will they be lost? They don’t necessarily apply to our society today so will they be taught at all?
It’s a slippery slope and this is the first step to falling. I’m glad I received my degree filled with the history of something I love. Why wouldn’t you want to know where it comes from? If you don’t then you just shouldn’t bother reading because you won’t understand half of what’s in front of you.
If there is even one classic that you enjoy then you should be outraged too. Fight for that classic you can’t get enough of. Or else future generations won’t know it exists… as it is a 19 year old that I work with has never heard of Pride and Prejudice. Drink that in.
Food for your beautiful thoughts… thanks for reading my rant.