The reason students need to take more English classes, rather than math and science classes, in order to graduate

Rear view of class raising handsWe had an interesting conversation at our dinner table last night. My son said that, now that he’s at high school, he enjoys his science class most.  He finds the other classes boring and, to his mind, pointless. Having watched a documentary recording what goes on in UC Berkeley’s liberal arts classrooms (a combination of Leftism and navel-gazing stupidity), even Mr. Bookworm conceded that my son was on to something and that going to college today for a liberal arts degree is probably a waste of money.

My son then asked a very thoughtful question: “If all these English classes don’t teach you anything useful, and science and math classes are useful, why is that our high school graduation requirement is for only two years of science but for four years of English?”

Because I didn’t want to start a fight in the house, I told my son that his was a good question, but didn’t offer an answer.  If I had offered an answer, I would have said that it’s because liberal arts classes are the vehicles for Leftist indoctrination.  Math, with its nasty little absolutes (e.g., 1+1 always equals 2), is not a welcoming environment for propaganda.  And if too many kids start studying science seriously, a substantial percentage of them might begin to understand that global warming, with its unfalsifiable closed universe, is a hoax.  English classes, however, are the perfect vehicle for teaching kids all the usual Leftist tropes:  class warfare; white imperialism, racism, and brutality; misogynistic male chauvinism, hostility to capitalism, and extreme gay sex.

Leftism and STEM cannot exist in the same universe, because true logical thinking must invariably reject hard-core Leftism.  The answer, therefore, is to trumpet a commitment to STEM classes, all the while making sure that Leftist literature and literary analysis remains the largest constant in any American child’s education.

Mitch Pearlstein, a former presidential speechwriter was therefore onto something when he took objection to Obama’s remarks about education (emphasis mine):

Then there is the matter of industrial innovation. The United States will continue innovating with the best of them, but we might not remain the very best of them as long as American students continue trailing large swaths of the world in math and science. A nation’s capacity for innovation is tied directly to the math and science knowledge of its workers, meaning the best such equipped workers increasingly are showing up in other countries. The president said pleasing things about high-school graduation rates. It would have been ultimately helpful, if painful, if he also had pointed to the fact that our students are losing ground vis à vis their foreign competitors. (Then, again, do I really want the federal government even more deeply involved in public schools? Forget the whole thing.)

Obama talks the talk, but he has no intention — ever — of walking the walk when it comes to actually elevating STEM subjects to the most important part of any high school curriculum.  Note, please, that I say “most important part,” not the “only part.”  I am not advocating doing away with liberal arts, although if I had my way, the kids would get intensive training in actual writing skills, and they would read Western classics that speak about big issues common to all people, rather than books aimed at undermining the enlightened Judeo-Christian western thinking.

Why Romeo and Juliet? Why not Much Ado About Nothing?

Romeo and Juliet:  two impulsive teens.

Romeo and Juliet: two impulsive teens.

My two favorite Shakespeare plays are Julius Caesar and Much Ado About Nothing.  I’m also quite partial to Richard III.  My least favorite Shakespeare play is Romeo and Juliet.

Sure, I know that R&J has some of the most exquisite prose and poetry in the English language.  Indeed, I think that’s part of the problem.

Shakespeare’s writing disguises that Romeo and Juliet are two of the worst nincompoops ever to be created from an artist’s imagination.  They are everything that is bad about teenagers:  fickle (“Rosamund?  Who the heck is Rosamund?”), overwrought, manic-depressive, impulsive, and woefully short-sighted.  Their failings bring death and destruction in their wake, and in this regard they are aided and abetted by the equally foolish nincompoops who surround them.  West Side Story recognized these failings, and tried to clean up Tony and Maria a little bit, by having him be less fickle, and having only one of them die at the end, slightly lessening the pile of bodies.

The only sensible analysis I’ve ever heard about Romeo and Juliet came from a professor at Berkeley who suggested to the class that Shakespeare didn’t intend to write an ageless romance.  Instead, in a time when all classes of families arranged marriages for their children, his goal was to support this adult-controlled system by showing that, if youngsters are left to their own devices, their adolescent failings lead to disastrous choices for everyone involved.

Of course, that’s not how high school English teachers approach Romeo and Juliet.  Instead, they focus obsessively on everybody’s feelings.  Unlike Shakespeare, who thought that over-reliance on feelings brings tragedy in its wake, the modern way to teach R&J is to have classrooms full of 14, 15, and 16 year olds compare their feelings to R’s & J’s, and then to wallow in precisely the type of irrational thinking that Shakespeare thought was so dangerous.  It’s as if the schools are intentionally creating emotional, adolescent, loose-cannon nincompoops.

For Gawd’s sake, people!  Can’t you see that, if everyone ends up suffering meaningless deaths, they’ve probably pursued a foolish, not a wise, course of conduct?  None of the dead in R&J sacrifice themselves to save another or to save their country.  All die because of rage, revenge, impulse control, and woefully poor lines of communication.

Wouldn’t it be much more useful for students to read Much Ado About Nothing?  To the extent the play has a moral lesson, it has an obvious and useful one for the cesspool of gossip that is a modern high school:  gossip can ruin young women.  This is as true now as it was then.  In a day and age of social media, terrible stories keep popping up in newspapers about teenage girls who commit suicide after pictures of them misbehaving (usually because they were drunk) hit their schools’ social media and cause them to become reviled outcasts.  Poor Hero almost suffered that fate.  It’s good to have a play that focuses on moral purity, dangerous rumors, and rescuing sullied reputations.

And of course, nothing surpasses the delightful interplay between Beatrice and Benedick.  Whether on paper, e-reader, TV, or movie screen, most every romantic comedy written since Much Ado About Nothing relies on this Shakespearean formula of witty and wary lovers who use their words to both repel and attract.  Indeed, the two of them produced one of my favorite Shakespearean insults:

BEATRICE: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; Nobody marks you.

BENEDICK: What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

Honestly, could anything be more pithy and cutting, yet surprisingly polite, than Benedick’s comeback to Beatrice’s insult?

If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend Joseph Papp’s 1973 version of Much Ado About Nothing, which is set in small town America at the end of the 19th century.  The acting is delightful and the setting is perfect.  High school English classes would be so much happier if students could laugh at and learn from Much Ado About Nothing, instead of spending their time wallowing in the pathetic teen culture that is Romeo and Juliet.

Could it be that my child will learn something in AP English?

My older child is taking AP English this fall, and has to do some reading and write some essays even before school starts.  I was intrigued by two of the essays:

Francine Prose’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Cannot Read : How American high school students learn to loath literature (Harper’s Magazine, 1999) and Richard Rodriquez’s Aria : A memoir of a bilingual childhood (American Scholar, 2001).  What’s amazing about both of these essays is that they go against the dominant narrative controlling high school English classes all over the nation.

Regarding Prose’s essay, I’m too lazy to search for links right now, but I know that I’ve railed repeatedly against high school English classes that have nothing to do with the English language (grammar, composition, artistry, and elegance), and everything to do with advancing a Leftist social agenda, complete with victimization, racism, white evil, and the elevation of emotions over rationality and morality.  Back in 1999, which doesn’t seem that long ago, someone could still write an essay that would be published in a major magazine making exactly those points.  Prose doesn’t phrase it in terms of the Marxist takeover of education, but that’s the underlying subtext to her complaint about the — you should pardon the expression — crap that high school students have to read, none of which advances the cause of the English language.

Oh, and while we’re talking about English language bastardization, please read Dennis Prager’s latest, in which he comments on a decision Leftist publications have made to act unilaterally to rename the Washington Redskins.  For purposes of this post, here’s the killer quotation, made as part of Prager’s slashing analysis of Slate’s self-righteous stance:

Slate Argument Three: “Changing how you talk changes how you think. . . . Replacing ‘same-sex marriage’ with ‘marriage equality’ helped make gay marriage a universal cause rather than a special pleading.”

Response: It’s nice to have at least one left-wing source acknowledge how the Left changes language to promote its causes. When more and more people began to suspect that global warming was not about to bring an apocalypse, and that, at the very least, it is in a pause mode, the Left changed the term to “climate change.”

The substitution of “marriage equality” for “same-sex marriage” is just one more example of dishonest manipulation of English.

The Orwellian manipulation of language by the Left would be reason enough to oppose dropping “Redskins,” a name representing a nearly 80-year-old tradition venerated by millions.

As for Richard Rodriquez’s article, he says what my father always said:  “bilingual education,” which really means teaching an immigrant child in his native tongue without ever exposing him to the English language, is a mistake.  At least, it’s a mistake for the child.  For the Leftists (this is me talking, not Rodriquez), it’s a great thing, because it creates a perpetual (Democrat-voting) ghetto class made up of people who do not speak sufficient English to break into the great middle class.

These articles are old, and I doubt that many more like them are being written.  I’m delighted, however, that at least one high school teacher is keeping them alive.

I should note that neither of these articles has anything to do with the English language either.  That is, this class has nothing to do with learning how to venerate and recreate the best kind of writing.  But at least it’s not PC crap.