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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature’ is – Among Other Things – a Self-Study Book for Students Who Want to Learn, Not be Indoctrinated by ‘PC’ Ideologues

Posted by kinchendavid on December 14, 2006

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Culture’s Got to Go” – Chant of Stanford University Protesters, Marching with Jesse Jackson in 1987

Hinton, WV – Almost 20 years after that chant was heard on the photogenic campus at one of the nation’s most expensive universities, Western Culture – at least in the English Departments of the nation’s colleges and universities – is pretty much gone.

That’s the view of Elizabeth Kantor, Ph.D., author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature” (Regnery, 288 pages, index, notes, $19.95). She wrote the book, she says, partly to provide a self-study guide for students who want to study American and English literature on their own – because in most institutions of so-called higher education, the canon of works that were standard for all English majors when I was one in the late 1950s and early 1960s has been replaced by fads and fluff, as well as “gods that failed” like Marxism.

I’m willing to bet that a course in grammar, required when I attended Northern Illinois University from 1957 to 1961, is absent for undergraduate English majors today. We also – if we wanted a B.A. – had to take two years of a foreign language — I took French and I’m proud to say got straight A’s from a professor who was educated at the University of Paris. The French teacher was a woman, as were a number of other professors at what had formerly been a teacher’s college. NIU provided me with a first-rate education at minimal cost, in sharp contrast to the $30,000 or so it costs to attend Stanford or Columbia or Harvard or any of the other so-called “prestigious” higher education joints.

Kantor says that, Instead of teaching Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, Dryden, Marlowe, Beowulf, Wordsworth, etc., today’s English professors teach the literature of pornography; how females are oppressed by “patriarchal” males; Jewish writers in Latin America, films made from literary works and other peripheral subjects that are more “politically correct” than reading the works of Dead White Males. What a loss!

That’s another reason Kantor, who earned her doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (she also has a master’s in philosophy from Catholic University in Washington, DC) , wrote this latest Politically Incorrect Guide (I’ve reviewed a number of them): To demonstrate how far the colleges and universities have declined. I’m glad it’s not just a pre-Boomer like me complaining. I saw Kantor on Fox & Friends Sunday and she’s relatively young. In her book, she singles out UNC professor emeritus – and distinguished Wordsworth scholar — Mark L. Reed for teaching English to her and other students as it should be taught.

She confirms my suspicion – strengthened by reading David Horowitz’s “The Professors” (also reviewed earlier this year on this site) that there’s something horribly wrong with the nation’s colleges and universities, where indoctrination has all too often replaced education. Her description of Reed’s methods (see page 217 ff) remind me of my professors. “Reed’s Rule,” as Kantor calls it, is vital to the proper study of literature.

After seeing Kantor on “Fox & Friends,” where she said that an entering freshman English major is often smarter and a better writer than a graduating senior at many universities, I contacted her and asked why she wrote the comprehensive and insightful book and are there any colleges or universities left that still follow the old practices. Here is her response:

“That’s why I wrote The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature — so people who wanted help learning the great literature in English could start teaching themselves.

“I’ve heard really good things from several students in the Catholic U. English department in Washington, D.C. There’s Hillsdale College, [Hillsdale, Mich.] of course.

“And certainly, anyone who wants to study English in college would be well advised to take a look at university English department course descriptions—they’re mostly available online now.

“The problem, though, is that most students can’t afford to pick the college they go to strictly on the basis of whether it has an English department in which the chief subject of study is the great literature itself, rather than a mish-mash of various kinds of “literary theory”—ranging from radical feminism to Marx and back around to “gender studies” and “queer theory”—or else not-so-great works, including even comic books and The Da Vinci Code. Students have to consider location, price, and where they can get a degree that might help make them employable.

“English literature used to be something students, whatever subject they were majoring in, were getting at least a decent dose of in college. You could trust that almost anywhere you studied as an undergraduate, you’d stand a chance of being introduced to Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton. Now, you can trust that pretty much wherever you study as an undergraduate, you’ll be introduced to the various strains of postmodernism: through “postcolonial” literature, or feminist readings of Shakespeare, or Marxist literary theory. And while Shakespeare’s poetry is the kind of thing all college students can benefit from, I don’t think the same is true of the content of the typical “English” education going on on American college campuses today.”

Thanks, Dr. Kantor, for confirming my suspicions about my beloved major that I don’t recommend students take. Major in business administration, art history, music appreciation, basket-weaving, accounting, pre-med, anything but English and the other humanities. English as it was taught by my professors – I didn’t have a single massive lecture class taught by graduate assistants – was a delight, that has helped me in my chosen career of journalism far better than majoring in “mass communications” would have. I still remember the names of most of my professors after all these years! They made the right kind of impression on me. Just for the heck of it, I located the English Department course offerings for Marshall University and I’m happy to say that based on the descriptions, the traditional approach to English and American literature is still followed at MU. Here is a link to a recent catalog:

http://www.marshall.edu/ucomm/catalog/interim_ug0405.pdf

Here’s what the author has to say about a few writers that every English major should read, that “PC English professors don’t want you to learn from”:

– Beowulf: If we don’t admire heroes, there’s something wrong with us

– Chaucer: Chivalry has contributed enormously to women’s happiness

– Shakespeare: Some choices are inherently destructive (it’s just built into the nature of things)

– Milton: Our intellectual freedoms are Christian, not anti-Christian, in origin

– Jane Austen: Most men would be improved if they were more patriarchal than they actually are

– Dickens: Reformers can do more harm than the injustices they set out to reform

– T. S. Eliot: Tradition is necessary to culture

– Flannery O’Connor: Even modern American liberals aren’t immune to original sin

This is a refreshing, stimulating, thought-provoking book that should be read by everyone. Without a working knowledge of the literature of our great native tongue, we’re doomed. That chant of the (mostly) over-privileged Stanford students is one more marker of the end of culture as we know it.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.regnery.com
Elizabeth Kantor’s blog: http://www.conservativebooknotes.com

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