Meanwhile, in San Francisco the militia of multiculturalism is working overtime to enforce intellectual mediocrity and strict adherence to a politically correct reading list. According to a Reuters news report, school board officials are considering a proposal requiring that up to 70 percent of school reading be books by “authors of color.” “The proposed change,” we are told, “would force high school teachers to select up to seven books by non-white authors for every three traditional classics by white writers.”

One board member—a twenty-four-year-old co-author of this “multicultural initiative”—declared that such a change was “long overdue” and that it would make school work more “relevant” to students in San Francisco’s public schools, where whites count for something less than 12 percent of the student population. Reflecting on the dismal scholastic record of African-American and Latino students, this gentleman took aim at the reading list: “Part of the reason is that the curriculum is not engaging them. Students get more interested in reading and language when they see themselves in the curriculum.” Among other things, what we have here is a classic case of what G. K. Chesterton called “the false theory of progress, which maintains that we alter the test instead of trying to pass the test.” Then, too, we wonder what happened to the idea that great literature expands one’s imaginative horizons? Who has thoughtfully read Homer, or Virgil, or Dante, or Shakespeare, or Milton and not “seen themselves”—and the world—more fully for the experience? And when it comes to “relevance,” the primary question is not whether Homer, for example, pertains to the narrow experience of an uneducated teen in Southern California but whether that teenager’s limited sympathy might be engaged and ennobled by something much larger and more lasting than his fleeting adolescent passions.

Such objections apparently do not matter among the PC police in San Francisco. Another board member who supports the initiative pondered the political failures of the traditional curriculum: “Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, for instance, has a bias against African Americans. And Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, while a great work, has an economic bias. It characterizes people based on their class.” What can we say? It is not clear whether the appropriate response to such statements is outrage or pity. On balance, we think perhaps a mixture of both is called for. Pity is surely the right response when faced with such intractable stupidity: “It characterizes people based on their class”—shouldn’t a person capable of uttering such reductive gibberish about The Canterbury Tales get some sort of government grant, perhaps under the Americans with Disabilities Act? But outrage, too, is required: after all, what we are talking about here is the possibility that many thousands of students in San Francisco will be cheated of a decent education in order that the demands of certain politically correct ideologues be appeased. In the end, anyone who cares about the students’ welfare must give precedence to the outrage.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 8, on page 2
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