About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

October 18, 2016

Shakespeare 'removed' from Yale?

At a chance meeting the Development Director of a local orchestra gave me two tickets to their evening concert. In the lobby afterwards, sipping sweet cranberry juice, we encountered an impeccably-dressed young couple, clearly well-bred, well-heeled and probably professional, with their equally pretty daughter who looked to be about 13 years old. 

Emi is likely to approach teenagers and children in such situations: “It’s so good to see young people at concerts,” she says to strike up a conversation with strangers. 

The father said proudly, “Heather plays in the Youth Orchestra.” Emi replied that was wonderful, especially in view of the fact that music education has been phased out of so many schools, and brought me into the conversation to tell me that. Then the father remarked that it’s tragic that even Harvard and Yale are "removing Shakespeare."

Taken aback, I replied with something like, "That can’t be true. You must be mistaken.” The man, suddenly cold and defensive, replied, “I am correct. And you are talking to a member of the choir” meaning, I assume, that he strongly disagrees with that terrible decision. He turned away, not interested in any more conversation and led the family to safer territory.

When I got home, puzzled by the angry response and pondering the sorry fate of Stephen Greenblatt, Harold Bloom, and others, I -- of course --  'Googled.' The first result at the top of the page was from Breitbart.com

Yale Students Demand Removal of White Authors from Curriculum

Under this (deliberately?) misleading headline Breitbart reported that a "group of Yale students” had circulated a petition to remove a course on English poets from the list of courses required for graduation with an English major — because the poets are all white men. The article implies such behavior should be expected from a school ironically not so diverse as it likes to flaunt because (quoting an earlier Yale Daily News), "97 percent of political contributions from Yale employees go to Democrats." 

Further down the list I found that last May the Yale Daily News had more accurately reported on the petition signed by 160 undergraduates (among 5430). English majors take 14 courses in their major field.

Student petition urges English department to diversify curriculum

"It urges English department faculty to reevaluate the undergraduate curriculum, as well as reconsider the current core requirements and introductory courses. It particularly criticizes the Major English Poets sequence, a longtime prerequisite for the major and “perhaps the most distinctive element of English at Yale,” according to the department’s website. The petition calls for the abolishment of this prerequisite and for the pre-1800/1900 requirements to refocus and include literature relating to gender, race and sexuality. [more]

Eventually I learned that a report published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has revealed that only four of 52 highest-ranked schools still have a Shakespeare requirement 
The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015 
Researchers determined that Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley, Wellesley College and the U.S. Naval Academy are the only four schools in the U.S. News & World Report’s 52 highest-ranked universities and colleges which require English majors to take a course on Shakespeare to obtain their degree.
The key word is "required" not "removed."

Obviously some Yale students don't just swallow meekly what they are served (something I learned in college), as, it seems, do readers of Breitbart. And it's sad that two sides of important issues no longer discuss them rationally (they do at Yale) before permanently locking up their views behind the lines on either side of a battlefront. We can hope that Heather will learn in the youth orchestra to play well with and listen to others.

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