Recently, I came across a blog post that brought out a lot of complicated feelings in me. I wanted to leave a comment, but I didn’t think I had dedicated enough time and thought at the time to answer. After taking some time, I’m ready. Just as a friendly reminder: please don’t send any hate towards myself or to the other author of the mentioned blog post. This is just a difference of a opinion, and I would appreciate it if this could remain a civil discussion. At the end of the day, I believe we have the same goal. We just have different ideas of how to get there.
The blogger in question made the argument that required reading should continue in school for a myriad of reasons. Here are the ones I want to address: 1) cultural capital 2) it validates English as a field of study.
If I’m being honest, I can understand the author’s perspective. I’ve felt embarrassed about earning a B.A. in English. When I go to parties or visit relatives, they always ask what I degree I have. I can almost feel an air of awkwardness when they don’t know how to respond after that. It’s usually, “So you want to be a teacher?” In my opinion, teachers have the most important job. I’m just not cut out of it. It’s also hurtful and annoying that this is the only profession they see use for an English degree. I work in marketing, and I utilize my English degree every day. I can’t speak for the blogger, but I got the distinct sense that she felt the need to validate her choice of education by writing the post that she did. However, I disagree with her on how we should go about doing it.
I agree that English is a field of study, and it should be treated as such. If you pursue English as a degree in most universities, there is a significant portion of dedication to teaching students how to research and analyze texts. In fact, most English majors excel at critical analysis because that’s what they’re trained to do.
However, I don’t think forcing the Western canon down the throats of students is the way to go. Let’s dissect the issues with the Western canon first. It’s elitist. It’s as simple as that. I’ve heard professors in well-established universities say as much. The Western canon is chosen by privileged white men who exclusively select works that fit their narrative. You’ll notice that women are rarely included. If they are, only white women have that honor. Marginalized groups of people are excluded from the Western canon when they shouldn’t be.
While the degree is titled “English,” we learn more than just how to effectively communicate arguments and read in English. The degree no longer encompasses the Western canon. You’ll notice that more and more universities are requiring classes outside of the Western canon. Yes, it’s still taught because it is important. You can still learn from it; however, it’s no longer the focal point.
We now move on to cultural capital. In short, cultural capital is the idea that we have to study certain topics because it’s necessary to succeed in life. The success doesn’t have to just be monetary; although, it often is. It’s different than just receiving an education.
In antiquated schools of thought, cultural capital is not seen as an issue. Fortunately, more and more people are poking holes in the argument for cultural capital. They don’t deny that cultural capital exists in today’s society. They argue that it is problematic that we need cultural capital to succeed. I agree with them. Cultural capital is a way to continue to promote elitist works and promote the hidden curriculum.
English isn’t viewed as a valid field of study by most people because they don’t understand what it is that we study. However, I don’t think the Western canon is how we prove that. What we need is for more people to enjoy reading and see the value in it. Studies have proven that forcing students to read classics only makes them dislike reading. We don’t like doing things we’re told we have to do. If we want people to read more classics, we have to let them fall in love with reading first.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think educators should eliminate the Western canon. However, I do think the approach we take to literary education must change. Students should be encouraged to read books of their choosing more often. When we read books we love, our minds open up to greater possibilities. We start making connections, and that’s how learning to analyze begins.
I’m curious to know your take on this topic. I know this is a widely contested debate among literary students. Do you think the Western canon deserves to be prioritized as it is? Let’s have a chat in the comments below!