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New Meaning for a ClassicPosted March 12, 2018, by Mary Grabar: It is with increasing dismay that I read missives from the Department of Education. On Friday, arriving in my mailbox was the Teachers Edition newsletter with a recommended link to an article about the winners of a New York Times contest for teenagers to connect classic literary works to articles in their newspaper. It does not take much imagination to guess what the results might be. The headline announced, "Student Contest Results in Eye-Opening Connections in Classical Texts" and linked back to the Times article, "Making Connections: 50 Teenagers Suggest Creative Ways to Link Classic Texts to the World Today." I'll say they were creative. Here are the winners:

Fahrenheit 451 and Trump: Zoe Georgulus connected President Trump's policy on language in CDC budget documents to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Writes the 17-year-old, "Our government has become a Mind Flayer of sorts: it sees itself as a superior race of thinkers and feels a need to dominate others to the point of mind control." Zoe connected the novel to the New York Times article titled, "Thought Control, Trump-Style."


Classic Book, "White Privilege": Apparently a book by Peggy McIntosh titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is considered to be a classic literary work. Seventeen-year-old Lily Landgrind through some very deep reading made a connection to columnist Charles Blow's column, "Checking My Male Privilege."

The Nightmare of Trump: Alicia Li, age 16, after reading The Great Gatsby saw the answer posed by "Philosophy Profissor" George Yancy's column, "Will America Choose King's Dream or Trump's Nightmare?" She compares the character of Tom Buchanan, who is revealed to be a racist and an abuser of women (his wife and mitstress), to our president, who on January 11 "made a racist and derogatory statement condemning immigrants from several nonwhite countries."

Mark Twain and Charles Blow on "Soft White Supremacy": Katherine LoBue, 16, had the "pleasure" of hearing Mr. Blow speak (she doesn't say if it was at her high school) and also read his column, "The Other Inconvenient Truth." Apparently in AP English at her school, Mamaroneck High School, students are still allowed to read Huckleberry Finn, but through a prism. Hers was Charles Blow's, of "soft white supremacy." Huck Finn is not the daring boy who questions assumptions about race and forms a bond of friendship with the slave, Jim, but is guilty of "infantalizing" Jim. This was also connected back to President Trump, specifically his statements about Mexican drug dealers during the campaign, his questioning Obama's birthplace, his claim that in Charlottesville violence had taken place on "many sides," and his calling Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas," which "belittl[ed] her and Native Americans simultaneously."

The Scarlet Letter and Trump's Xenophobia: Isabella Picillo, 17, connected The Scarlett Letter to President Trump's ban on immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring countries, which happen to be Muslim, but Ms. Picillo got her news from the New York Times, so she connected Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel about a badge of shame to "Trump Partially Lifts Trump Administration Ban on Refugees." In her analysis she brings up a point that this English professor has never seen in the novel, and that is about the "shadow self." She finds a connection to what the Trump administration has wrought: "more people have become comfortable vocalizing xenophobic, along with homophobic, racist, and sexist, thoughts."

Shakespeare and Jeff Sessions: Ayden Nichol, 17, diverged a bit. She did not attack President Trump, but directed criticisms at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, connecting the article, "Louisiana's Big Step on Justice Reform" to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

No Book Needed When the Topic Is Stereotype Threat in STEM: The other featured winner was Sayali Shelke, 19, at Texas A & M University, where they apparently don't even need to read literature in order to make a statement about its connection to current events. She groused about the "lack of female representation in STEM." Her topic was "stereotype threat" and her source was the New York Times article, "Careers for Women in Technology Companies Are a Global Challenge." 

The Runners Up: Many of the Runners Up take on the President, but also such timely topics as the #MeToo movement, Wonder Woman, fake news, rape, race (another Charles Blow column), "comfort women," "the heartbeat of racism," foreign language study, consumerism, and Bitcoin. Most of these mentioned a literary work, but not all did. However, all did link back to the New York Times. The vast majority of winners were female. My question is: Who is writing this newsletter that connects to New York Times anti-Trump propaganda that politicizes literature? Come on, Betsy DeVos!

In other news today: A new Gallup and Knight Foundation study shows that college students favor diversity over free speech. Male students, however, think free speech is more important. Minorities and women value "diversity" and as we have seen win contests sponsored by the New York Times. Heather Mac Donald, a petite, soft-spoken woman who goes into the toughest neighborhoods of New York City and talks to police and frightened residents about crime, describes what it was like to be confronted by students who value "diversity" during her talk at Claremont McKenna College last year.

Another and another one bite the dust. Music professor Clifford Adams at the University of Cincinnati announced his retirement after being placed on administrative leave for making common sense comments on a student's paper about Islamic terrorism. Jane Shaw, writing at the Heartland Institute, describes another retirement, of Robert Paquette from Hamilton College, "Acclaimed College History Professor Leaves After Ideological Attacks." Hamilton College students will be so much worse off, especially because the college has ensured through discriminatory policies against those like Professor Paquette that scholars of his caliber are never hired again. Read it here.

Speaking of high-caliber professors, "Running the Gauntlet with Paul Gottfried at Hamilton College" is my retort to the smear of Professor Gottfried by the editor of the Hamilton College student newspaper.



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