Should we judge a book by the content of its pages or by its author’s skin color? Today’s cultural credo, informed by the politics of multiculturalism, demands the latter. High society and academia promote ‘diverse’ authors as an urgent redress for the dominance of straight, white men in the Western literary canon.
No sane mind would deny the benefits of studying literature by meritorious authors belonging to varied demographics. But the project of diversification is less interested in encouraging talent, and more focused on redistributing social power, historically enjoyed by white males, to the others. Behind the facade of egalitarianism lies a deeply flawed understanding of how and why the traditional literary canon came into being. As Roger Scruton explains in his essay, “Rousseau and the Origins of Liberalism” (The New Criterion, 1998):
The traditional curriculum existed because it contained an accumulation of social knowledge – knowledge of the human mind, the human character, and the human heart – whose utility is obvious to those who have studied it, but inconceivable to those who have not.
Cultural elites and many educators fall in the latter category, choosing to view the traditional canon as a tool of socio-racial oppression. Consequently, education boards across the nation have been dramatically revising school reading requirements to exclude celebrated (white male) authors like Charles Dickens (once the most read by high school students), Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, and Mark Twain.
Instead, avant-garde fiction comprising experimental novels – like Jewish-Indigenous Alaskan writer Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing In The Rain” (2008) told from a dog’s point of view – and sexually explicit works by Sherman Alexie (Native American), Junot Diaz (Dominican American), and Toni Morrison (African American) are now widely taught.
Though several of these new picks feature disturbing and age-inappropriate themes like rape, incest and pederasty, masturbation, bestiality, graphic violence, alcoholism, and drug abuse, they enjoy the continued patronage of a literary establishment enamored with the obscene and the absurd.
As insightful social commentary and polished writing fade into the ether, the Great American novel has given way to word vomit by less-than-mediocre writers, who purport to be edgy by slathering their works with profanity and pornography. Consider the following excerpt from Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2008), about an adolescent’s obsession with sex against the backdrop of a racist and white supremacist America.
He wore his semi-kink hair in a Puerto Rican afro, rocked enormous Section 8 glasses – his ‘anti-p*ssy devices,’ Al and Miggs, his only friends, called them – sported an unappealing trace of mustache on his upper lip and possessed a set of close-set eyes that made him look somewhat retarded.
Under the guise of capturing the ‘true voice’ of immigrant Dominican youth growing up in the ghettoes of New Jersey, Diaz packs his writing with obscenities. Rather than criticizing the work for its lazy stereotypes, sensationalized narrative, and naked attempts to hew to fashionable race theories, critics showered Diaz with acclaim for writing about a niche demographic seldom featured in American fiction. Con artists are lauded as visionary geniuses and identity politics win the day, yet again.
It should not surprise many, then, that overlooking the quality of reading materials has led to a steep decline in the reading competency of American high school students. According to studies, the average reading complexity level of assigned high school texts ranked 9.0 and 9.1 in 1907 and 1923 respectively. In 2016, this number fell to an appalling 5.6 for eleventh graders and 6.5 for twelfth graders. Further, education specialist Dr. Sandra Stotsky reports that the average college freshman reads at a level appropriate for seventh grade.
Sadly, dismal school performance is unlikely to inspire change from teachers that are more concerned with nurturing politically radicalized crybullies than literate, knowledgeable citizens. For example, the financially derelict Chicago public school system cannot provide basic educational services such as libraries (in 160 schools), access to music and the arts, and school transportation, but sets aside resources for mandatory sex education – including thirty minute sessions each month for kindergarten students.
Similarly, in June, Seattle Public Schools held a public reading of “I am Jazz” (2014) – a book that chronicles the life of teen transgender advocate Jazz Jennings – followed by workshops for “educators, families and youth/children of all ages.” This initiative to promote ‘gender fluidity’ is especially dubious and dangerous, considering that the American College of Pediatricians categorically classifies transgenderism as a mental illness.
In truth, such ideological indoctrination serves as an early primer for college careers in social activism, defined by politics of victimhood across race, class, gender, and sexuality. NYU Professor Tony Judt elaborates, “Multiculturalism created lots of micro-constituencies, which universities didn’t have the courage to oppose […] Jewish kids take Jewish studies, gay students gay studies, black students African-American studies. You no longer have a university, but a series of identity constituencies all studying themselves.”
Finally, the fetishization of diversity has empowered some teachers to go so far as to rehabilitate sexual deviancy as merely uncommon behavior. At the prestigious Cornell University, tenured English professor Ellis Hanson routinely teaches courses in child pornography and pedophilia, defending his field of expertise as a “different sexual culture” that we should feel “obliged to accept, study, and celebrate.”
Pursuing a pseudo-egalitarian ideal, societal elites and educators have abandoned their responsibility to discriminate in favor of good literature, virtuous behavior, and truth. For the ensuing creative and moral bankruptcy that pervades our cultural moment, we have them to thank.