Gramsci, not grammar: Even the teaching of English has gone woke

January 5, 2022

David Randall, Ph.D.

We can’t reform education without root-and-branch reform of our education institutions. They’re rotted through and through with radical politics.

Consider how Oklahoma’s universities and public schools teach English. English shouldn’t even be a political issue. English teachers ought to teach students how to write correctly and eloquently, to read some of the books which express beautifully the character and ideals of our country, and to get into the habit of reading good books for fun. An English teacher’s job isn’t to tell students what to think about politics.

The institutions in charge of the education and professional development of Oklahoma’s English teachers don’t believe that any more.

Radical Politics and Activism

For example, take a look at the webpages of the University of Oklahoma Department of English. OU English sets the tone for how to instruct Oklahoma’s K-12 English teachers. It ought to be giving Oklahoma’s English teachers a love of books for their own sake. Instead, OU English teaches radical politics.

The radical commitments start on OU English’s home page, with the de rigeur “Statement on Black Lives Matter.” It includes a pledge to commit the department even further to radical politics: “The faculty in the OU Department of English join Black Lives Matter in condemning systemic racism and oppression in our community and in the United States. ... So that we can make necessary and meaningful reforms, we commit to engaging in self-study of and deep reflection on policies and practices that demean our colleagues and students of color, including those stemming from our departmental structures, our curriculum and pedagogy, and our relationships with one another.”

This commitment doubles down on OU’s existing commitment to radical politics. OU English courses already include:

OU English adds to this growing number of radical courses a multicultural requirement for its English majors that institutionalizes the identity politics of the modern radical left by putting a race quota into its reading requirements.

As in English departments around the country, OU English’s composition instruction is particularly politicized. In the first-year composition course arc, students are trained to “work toward intervening in a public issue”—in other words, in the basics of protest civics, which is Saul Alinsky’s community organization thinly disguised.

For example, English 1213 assigns students to “research the worldview of one indifferent or resistant stakeholder [on the public issue], creating a profile and a proposal for persuading that stakeholder in the next assignment[.] Assignment 3: students craft an argument to the stakeholder that they analyzed in the second assignment[.]”

Meanwhile, the introductory graduate composition course, English 5403: Introduction to Rhetoric and Writing Studies, “asks questions regarding the role RWS scholarship—our scholarship—could and should play in a current context that makes Critical Race Theory illegal and within which we are still far from equal justice.” English 5473.01: Women’s Rhetorics & Writing instructs students in how to “take up issues of power and privilege, protest and resistance, education, work and labor, civic engagement, and embodied identities (racial, ethnic, physical, sexual, etc.).”

In short, Oklahoma’s writing teachers are taught to prize Gramsci more than grammar.

OU English still contains courses that appear to offer straightforward English instruction, such as Joyce Coleman’s classes on medieval English literature and Henry McDonald’s American literature survey. Coleman, moreover, directs OU’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, which maintains a traditional scholarly focus. (I have read and profited from Coleman’s work in my own research; OU is fortunate to have a scholar of her caliber.)

But these courses generally are taught by older professors; when the old guard retires, real English instruction at OU English will die.

Junior-High and High-School English

Any English teachers who manage to emerge from college with an uncorrupted love of literature will face an even worse challenge—the demands imposed by their professional organization. The National Council of Teachers of English’s (NCTE) new NCTE Standards for the Initial Preparation of Teachers of English Language Arts 7–12 (Initial Licensure) now requires that “Candidates apply and demonstrate knowledge of learners and learning to foster inclusive learning environments that support coherent, relevant, standards-aligned, differentiated, and antiracist/antibias instruction to engage grade 7–12 learners in ELA.” Oklahoma English teachers who just want to teach their students to write well and love good books are out of luck.

Nor will these traditionally minded schoolteachers have much use for the Oklahoma English Journal, the official publication of the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English (OKCTE), co-edited by Jennifer Williams and Michelle Waters. One need look no further than the table of contents to see just how far the rot has spread.

Williams, who also serves on the OKCTE executive board, once informed us that “White people are sucking the life from America, denying our country any possible chance at greatness.” She has decided to rethink the literary canon: “I’m done with the dead, White guys … I will no longer center them in all their precious White, cishet maleness. ... I used to be one of those people and teachers who … wanted my students to speak ‘proper’ English. That was the first thing I let go.”

Waters, who is also on the OKCTE executive board, likewise believes that ideological indoctrination is the job of an English teacher.

Alas, it’s the same in every discipline—not only social studies and English but also science, mathematics, the arts, and foreign languages. The Woke establishment aims to redefine education as political indoctrination and then makes it a firing offense not to comply. They’ve been all too successful.

Oklahomans face an unprecedented situation. Americans traditionally delegate substantial autonomy to different professionals, on the sensible theory that professionals know their own business best. But the education professionals have abandoned true education for radical politics and thereby have forfeited the confidence of the citizens. Oklahomans who wish their children to be educated properly must reclaim the power they delegated to these professions.

We do not yet know precisely how this should be done. But we know this is a job we must do ourselves.

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