Friday, August 18, 2006

protected speech in textbooks

The AJC has published editorials on the Georgia Tech issue: one by the two students bringing suit and one by the school's chair of the School of Modern Languages ("Shameful victory for the intolerant stings").

But protected speech of favored groups is so insidious that only newcomers and outsiders can recognize it in academia. Consider these two treatments of the literature of two different religious groups in a college textbook I am required to use.

To introduce students to Zuni ritual "poetry," one of which is the Scalp Dance, the editors of the Norton Anthology of World Literature write, "Bastions of spiritual and social autonomy, the pueblo communities, make a profound impression on the nonnative world by the strength of their traditions in an era of change; and of this there can be no more convincing proof than the ceremonial system of the Zuni pueblo with its annual cycle of drama, sacrifice, and oratory."
The "Scalp Dance," an example of this "ceremonial system," ends, “In a shower of arrows, / In a shower of war clubs, / With bloody head, / The enemy, / Reaching the end of his life, / Added to the flesh of our earth mother.” But the editors in the introductory pages instruct students that the purpose of this Scalp Dance was to “purify the warrior who had taken a scalp and to induct the trophy itself into the company of previously won scalps, regarded as rain makers.” The "Scalp Dance," presented as having profoundly religious meaning (it "purifies") has replaced the poetry of Christian writers in such anthologies.

Compare this introduction to the "Scalp Dance" to the introduction to Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
"Since Solzhenitsyn is such a dedicated anti-Communist and anti-Marxist, many Westerners have jumped to the conclusion that he is in favor of the Western democratic system. Such is not the case. He looks back to an earlier, more nationalist and spiritual authoritarianism represented for him by the image of Holy Russia." In a typical classroom where "authoritarianism" (Christian authoritarianism especially) is presented as the greatest evil, the discussion is predictable. But a writer like Solzhenitsyn who is explicitly moral is treated with suspicion and his views oversimplified. Chants of an illiterate group that describe their pantheistic beliefs as they celebrate with the scalps of their enemies are presented as profoundly religious poetry.

Oh, and do not be fooled by Professor McKnight's presentation of Goethe in his editorial in the link above; he implies that Goethe would be in favor of abortion rights and gay marriage. To the contrary! Today's Faust is the post 60s revolutionary, romantic out to "find himself." But this is a pact with the devil. Today's Gretchen is the young woman deceived by the Fausts around her. But instead of murdering her baby after its birth, she has an abortion.

Now back to preparing my own syllabi for the semester.

Hi Mary,

Perhaps you could rename you class National Socialism 101 to get back at the admin schmucks who make you use said books...assuming you have tenure, that is...hee...hee

By the way, you should submit this post to Town Hall....

Thanks, Paul. I've been off dancing this weekend, so the late reply. No tenure here. I can tell you that the publishing industry is as pc as academia. But they are only filling the demands of the marketplace. They conduct focus groups with professors, have professors write and edit the textbooks.
Years ago I took an Amer. lit. course at Ga. Perimeter. We read a Zuni poem called "Syatasha's Night Chant", if I have the spelling right.
I believe it involved the cycles of nature and such. However, the teacher and the anthology (Heath) hadn't a clue about the images in the poem. I've never quite understood the benefit of studying a poem without studying the poetry in it, if you catch my drift.
No doubt, it meant something to the Zunis themselves but the people in our class were left without any clues - and thus clueless.
And to think we could have read, oh, Hawthorne or Whitman (both of whom I wrote about for that class). And never mind about learning about versification - oh, no, we had to be open-minded rather than learned!
Thanks for the articles.
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