MILLER: You’ve got to be carefully taught

According to an old E.F. Hutton ad, the best way to dazzle a party of sophisticates is to lead with expert information on investments. There is no such ad, however, urging poetry recitations as a sure-fire entree to popularity.  Put another way,

Give stock tips at a chic affair,

You’ll be the star attraction.

Cite poetry with a knowing air

And halt the interaction!

My mission here is to urge readers who might bolt at the mention of poetry to bear with me as I connect the left’s success censuring great poets with their success reducing the entire white race to the sum of its crimes against humanity.  

The decision to devalue poetry and, by association, all things Western originated in the early 70s, when students, flush with their success protesting the Viet Nam War, decided to protest teachers who made them read poetry. My introduction to the type came on Feb. 25, 1973, when I read a Colman McCarthy op-ed titled, “Why Homer and Shakespeare? Why not Woody Guthrie?” which showcased students who balked at reading “those ancient creeps.”  

I had expected to find a comeuppance for hipsters who would disown their heritage but found instead a pundit who agreed that teachers had no right to cram such “indigestibles” down the throats of students who preferred the easy-listening music of Woody Guthrie.  

What began as a leftist’s plea to jettison works students found boring soon became a leftist plot to jettison — or denounce — authors they found oppressive, that is, white males who’d become writers to enshrine their supremacy. In 1991, Duke professor Stanley Hauerwas captured the left’s contempt for white male authors in one line: “The canon of great literature was created by high-Anglican ass—-s to underwrite their social class.”  

That same year, Smith College’s Office of Student Affairs informed the student body: “As groups of people begin the process of realizing that they are oppressed, and why, new words tend to be created to express the concepts that the existing language cannot.” Cue the advent of terms like “cisgender” and “misogynoir” so students would know what to call their oppressors.      

Thirty years later, leftist newspeak has incriminated, not just great poets, but their accomplices as well, who are anyone who fails to grasp “the long and ugly history of the classics as a tool of oppression and exclusion.” When Denison University classics professor Rebecca Kennedy made that claim in 2017, she spoke for a new class of Jacobins who agree that “We Condone It by Our Silence,” and who spend whole careers “Confronting the Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy.”  

When Professor Kennedy included Homer among the writers she says appeal only to “those who are drawn to the ancient world because of the racism and misogyny,” leftists nationwide organized to ban other classics they say incite “racism, sexism…and other forms of hate.”  

Perhaps there is no connection between the Kennedy harangue and the 2018 founding of #DisruptTexts, but the disrupters banned Homer because The Odyssey is “centered on the white male gaze.” Soon thereafter, a Massachusetts English teacher urged teachers to “take the Odyssey out of your curriculum because it’s trash,” and another teacher boasted, “Hahaha! Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum!”

Teachers who blacklist Homer disavow genius, but no English department ploy is so daft as the toppling of Shakespeare. The push to dethrone Shakespeare originated in the 1980s, when Women’s Studies professors took up arms against the Bard for consigning female characters to an “all-women ghetto” and for endorsing “the ideology of the family.” Women who had been charmed by Shakespeare’s quick-thinking Portia or Rosalind were roundly dismissed as “reactionary” or “intransigent.”          

When such nonsense was met with derision, academe’s virtue traffickers made racism their main charge — and launched the game plan that woke politicians have adopted to typecast conservatives. In 2015, English teacher Dana Dusbiber made mainstream news arguing that Shakespeare’s plays are irrelevant to “students of color” and that “as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life…we promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.” Never mind that W.E.B DuBois, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou have all noted the indelible stamp Shakespeare left on their own writing.

Teachers who cast great writers as the perpetrators of crimes against humanity call to mind the lyrics of a song from South Pacific. The line “You’ve got to be carefully taught…to hate all the people your relatives hate” was written to shame parents who teach children to shun “people whose skin is a different shade.” An updated version of Hammerstein’s lyrics would shame scholars who teach students to denounce the white race and our Western heritage.

During World War II, England’s “average leftist intellectual” predicted — and almost seemed to will — Britain’s defeat. Orwell’s appraisal of the type fits our own leftist intellectuals: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that. No ordinary man could be such a fool.”

The difference is that leftist intellectuals here proceed unchecked, and that is the single greatest failing of the American university.