Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
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Monday, September 22, 2014

You Should Absolutely, Positively Read the Canon in College

The New Republic has republished this essay by Irving Howe as part of its centennial celebration. It originally appeared in its February 18, 1991 issue.

He concludes by mentioning and answering "some of the objections one hears in academic circles" to his views. These are,

"By requiring students to read what you call 'classics' in introductory courses, you impose upon them a certain worldview—and that is an elitist act.
[...]
"Your list of classics includes only dead, white males, all tied in to notions and values of Western hegemony. Doesn't this narrow excessively the horizons of education?
[...]
"To isolate a group of texts as the canon is to establish a hierarchy of bias, in behalf of which there can be no certainty of judgment.
[...]
"The claim that there can be value-free teaching is a liberal, deception or self-deception; so too the claim that there can be texts untouched by social and political bias. Politics or ideology is everywhere, and it's the better part of honesty to admit this.
[...]
"Wittingly or not, the traditional literary and intellectual canon was based on received elitist ideologies, the values of Western imperialism, racism, sexism, etc., and the teaching of the humanities was marked by corresponding biases. It is now necessary to enlarge the ration so that voices from Africa, Asia, and Latin America can be heard. This is especially important for minority students so that they may learn about their origins and thereby gain in self-esteem.
[...]
"What you have been saying is pretty much the same as what conservatives say. Doesn't that make you feel uncomfortable?"

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