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Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors

Discussion in 'Personal' started by Orkrider2, Oct 26, 2017.

  1. lexus300

    lexus300 Star commenter

    Unlike most on here I think I could be considered as part of the problem. I taught on degree programmes for many years and I was also responsible for the construction, validation and delivery of more than a dozen degree programmes in very diverse curriculum areas. Being an FE Lecturer I was limited to undergraduate teaching up to the end of the second year of a full time degree programme. Our students left College to complete their third and final year at the validating university.
    For all of the degree programmes I was responsible for (23 in total) I controlled the funding for each course including capital expenditure and a significant part of that capital was spent on reference literature for which I required an academic justification and also the validating University required the same from me. In the years I managed that provision I can honestly say that at no time was an authors colour ethnicity/race considered as an issue.
     
  2. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Lead commenter

    Yes but the degree is English literature not World literature. By all means include works by BME authors if they are English and are of the necessary literary merit. I would imagine the course studied would include the option to study female English writers not just males.
     
    lexus300 likes this.
  3. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Lead commenter

    It is all about politics I'm afraid not literature. I gather some of the Cambridge English Lit students seem to think they need to study British Colonialism, the history of slavery and notions of Britishness via their English Literature course. I dont understand why they dont simply change their degree and study History instead. I did an English degree back in the day (not at at Cambridge) and we studied the literature not the underlying politics.
     
    nomad, Laphroig and lexus300 like this.
  4. secretsiren

    secretsiren Star commenter

    Studying any literature text without knowing its background is absolutely pointless. If you don't know about why Priestley was aghast at the treatment of the working classes in early 20th century Britain, then An Inspector Calls is just a rather tedious play about a weird chap interrupting a dinner party. If you don't know about racial segregation in To Kill A Mockingbird then you may well assume that Lee was using the word '******' herself rather than trying to show it up for the offensive term it is. If you know nothing about the Depression or about the treatment of women and black men in the 1920s and 30s, Of Mice and Men loses multiple layers of meaning. Benjamin Zephaniah's poetry is just words on a page unless you understand why he's angry.

    Literature has a unique voice and provides more than a simple opportunity to follow some characters around their world. It teaches us about the world itself, about multiple political and social arenas, and allow us to see into others' worlds. I too did an English degree and studying feminist readings, Marxist interpretations, social and political background, cultural context - all of that was key to really understanding the text as part of a bigger narrative and not just as a rather nice story.
     
  5. lexus300

    lexus300 Star commenter

    The voice of sanity.
     
    nomad likes this.
  6. Orkrider2

    Orkrider2 Star commenter

    I don't know but a quick google of a Cambridge reading list for undergrads suggests not.

    I don't see why it has to be an either/or situation. When I studied music as an undergrad, there was obviously a focus on the study of theoretical and practical musicianship, but there was also a significant focus on the historical, political, geographic and religious influences that drove stylistic developments in music over the last thousand years. The history of music is so deeply entwined with the cultural contexts in which music has been created and performed, that to disregard it would limit understanding of why the great composers/pieces were considered controversial, or groundbreaking, or so influential. #
    I would have thought the study of literature without also taking into account a consideration of the cultural influences and political/historical/social context in which it was written, alongside a more theoretical study of literature, would be denying students the potential for deeper understanding and better evaluation of texts.
     
    emerald52 likes this.
  7. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

    Not really.

    The generally accepted definition of English literature (at least as far as academia is concerned) is literature written in English since c.1450 by the inhabitants of the British Isles.

    Since, until comparatively recently, those writers of such literature have been male and white, it is not really surprising that the authors detailed in the university reading lists are male and white also.
     
    Oscillatingass likes this.
  8. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Lead commenter

    You are quite correct regarding background. I would never deny that the context of the literature being studied is fundamental to one's deeper understanding of it but I get the impression the Cambridge students wish to study literature because they are mainly interested in its context rather than its literary merit. This begs the question: if one is interested in History, why not study History? I suspect one would derive a much deeper understanding of the issues that interest the students in question.
     
    nomad likes this.
  9. Didactylos4

    Didactylos4 Star commenter

    Then perhaps the authors of those reading lists need to look at, comparatively. newer books and authors.....
    It isn't as if there's still a shortage of alternatives
     
  10. secretsiren

    secretsiren Star commenter

    You're right. I do think the two subjects are intertwined - I love studying History and I talk about it a lot when giving students a sense of social and cultural background.

    I'm not sure the History course would be any better for students from BME backgrounds though. The new History GCSE is a Govian bliss-list of dead white British men. Maybe it's better at Uni.

    Absolutely. It doesn't need to be a complete unit if there's no time on the syllabus, but rather a new look at available texts. Lots of brilliant, recent BAME authors who'd fit onto an English Literature course without issue - Zadie Smith, for example, would give students texts of real literary merit and a wider social context than the current reading list.
     
    emerald52 likes this.
  11. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

    I am sure they have. However, even the comparatively recent 'Angry Young Men' (playwrights John Osborne and Arnold Wesker and the novelists Kingsley Amis, John Braine, John Wain, and Alan Sillitoe) were male and white. The writers of the Irish Literary Renaissance such as John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats and Sean O'Casey were all male and white. Even the earlier 'Bloomsbury Group' which included Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, Vita Sackville-West, Roger Fry, Clive Bell and John Maynard Keynes, although not all male, were white.

    You would be hard pushed to find BAME authors if you were studying the works of the Angry Young Men, the Bloomsbury Group or the Irish Literary Renaissance! Benjamin Zephaniah just doesn't really fit in to those areas of study.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2017
    Didactylos4 and george1963 like this.
  12. Didactylos4

    Didactylos4 Star commenter

    I agree entirely.
    I do think however that a study of more contemporary works would benefit from the inclusion of such authors.

    I do appreciate that the "classics" of comparatively recent literature are still worthy of study and are beloved of academia, but perhaps it would be wise for the study of more comparatively recent works to be an option.
    Most of those listed are so last century..... ;)
     
    emerald52 and nomad like this.
  13. george1963

    george1963 Occasional commenter

    White's a blooming colour...tall, slim, white, blonde. It's an adjective. Personally I have an issue with anyone calling me ethnic :cool:
     
  14. Moony

    Moony Lead commenter

    I'm with @Orkrider2 on this. Why should the students not be opposed to good literature from people of a range of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds? If they are to learn to critically analyse text why limit them to one clutch of authors? The more writing styles that they are exposed to as well as the more contexts the better they will be at doing their thing. Ignoring the socioeconomic and political context will nerf their development.

    It's the same in science, that doesn't happen in the background. With how things stand at the moment if you teach kids about various scientific discoveries it's almost a privileged white guy or a white guy that's got lucky at being in the right place for a good number of discoveries. They are not the only ones that have discovered things, the women scientists get smaller mentions and there is a European centric slant on things. Various reasons for that but it does need to be born in mind.
     
    emerald52 likes this.
  15. lexus300

    lexus300 Star commenter

    On the other hand it is replacing an even greater in depth study of the literature itself. You pay your money and take your choice.
     
  16. lexus300

    lexus300 Star commenter

    White guy (privileged of course:rolleyes:), black guy (not privileged of course:rolleyes:), yellow guy, puce guy, male/female, gay straight, who cares, throw them all in the mix, the more the merrier. That will no doubt increase our understanding of all things PC., hang on though! What about the content? Never mind, as long as we get plenty of virtue signalling in, right on.
     
  17. Orkrider2

    Orkrider2 Star commenter

    Why replacing? Why not added to?
     
    sabrinakat, galerider123 and Moony like this.
  18. lexus300

    lexus300 Star commenter

    Have you ever tried to fit a 6" **** into a 4" hole or is it a case of bigger is better? I think it could end up as more is less.
     
  19. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    It's more straightforward with science as the importance of discoveries are more objective. Until about 150 years ago there was no such thing as a "scientist", anyone who was able to engage in science was privileged with time on their hands and the funds to buy their own equipment. These people were mainly European or American and therefore mainly male and white. I always found it a little patronizing when particular groups are chosen to have their scientific achievements particularly feted. Like the kid who gets the "tries hard" award when their achievements are lower than some who got no award.

    In fact I've always thought of authors often being quite privileged too if it comes to it. Most of my ancestors will have been illiterate and too busy digging coal or ploughing fields to be able to spend all day writing down stories they made up. I'm sure there will be exceptions, but most authors have a lot of time to write somewhere quiet and undisturbed, however that is arrived at, the most likely way is by not having to earn a living otherwise.

    As I understand it, there is no actual positive decision to choose white, male authors and so exclude others, the suggestion is that others are added as well which is hardly controversial unless you have an alternative agenda as the Torygraph seems to.
     
    Moony likes this.
  20. Didactylos4

    Didactylos4 Star commenter

    That would probably be a more accurate statement if you simply removed the last two letters
     
    emerald52 and Moony like this.

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