The case for racist English classes

Dear Hannah,

There's a very easy way to make sure your going to judge me, and I have already done it.  It all lies in the "your."  The difference between "your" and "you're" is simple, but the fact that I've mistaken it isn't.  It hints at all kinds of things; at whether I'm sloppy or hurried or stupid or ignorant; it makes you wonder if I ever passed the fourth grade and whether I learned anything after it.  Who is the writer? you ask, and rightly.  If Jesus said not to judge (whatever that means) He also said that those who can be trusted with much must first be trusted with little; and I've intentionally shown you what happens when someone can't be trusted.  Simply put, he gets judged -- without mercy.

This is really what lies at the bottom of our grammatical standards: not that we've had the same language forever or that the English we're speaking today is the English we'll be speaking tomorrow, but that every ounce of confidence you might have inspired can be lost on the triviality of a typo, and that a message of incomparable beauty can be marred by a sentence with warts.  This is the purpose of the much maligned profession of English in the first place: that someone out there can teach us how to not screw up our delivery completely.  Someone out there in the University of Washington disagrees.  He believes an English course should be inclusive and we assert the opposite.  It ought to be so exclusive that if you fail to make yourself included you fail.  We assert a course ought to change a person, and that it ought to change him for the better even if the "better" in this case means "the whiter."

There are many arguments in the liberal linguist's defense, and they can all be summed up in the brilliant essay of David Foster Wallace's about dictionaries.  That English professors have gotten pedantic is something we all know; and nobody can refute the fact that refusing to end a sentence in a preposition can be equally annoying as getting an adverb in the place of an adjective.  It's one of the worst things I know of.  There's a such thing as being too "proper" in speech like there's such thing as being too "proper" toward women; and either of them ruins our chances at having great intercourse.  Which brings us to a very important point.  In every discussion of the propriety of our language the question is not whether we are annoying to any particular dialect, but whether we are annoying to the people we're trying to win.

Everyone has a dialect, and we'll leave the number of English dialects to the wankers known as our linguists.  The most important thing for any English student to learn is how to write like the right ones.  Like the people who run our businesses and colleges and speak like our most inspiring leaders and theorists.  We have no time to learn how to speak like the worst of us, because we have no interest in learning how to live like the underdogs.  Our interest in Standard White English is our mastery of standard white Americans.  What's important is that whoever goes to an American school can learn to speak like somebody fit for American command.  Like someone who has all their marbles in the right place.  As though, if someone who was running things was to suddenly disappear and somebody was to take his place, we wouldn't be worried they would burn us to the ground.

The sounds we know as words are symbolic for ideas.  The way we string those words together is a metaphor for how we put ideas together.  Obama had never run a business or been in the military or held an executive office, but he spoke like a responsible educated white man, and so Americans assumed he could act like one.  Whether we were right or wrong is beside the  point.  He became the President, and he couldn't have done it if he wrote or talked like Flavor Flav.

In this sense a good English class is only prejudicial as any other class is prejudicial.  It sees somebody else who moved men and wants us to be like them too.  It has no interest in our feelings about whether or not we're as good as it gets.  It makes us the best.  And if we are not all capable of being the best, a good English class should make us be able to fake it.  A person who has no interest in changing has no business enrolling.  They have no business being in business -- or in the business of making others trust us known as politics.  In everything we do there is an element of belonging.  Whether we decide to belong with the best or not is entirely our decision.  A good school should give us the ability to choose at our leisure.

If you want to know where we went wrong with English classes you would have to look to our humanities departments.  For years we have been developing science, technology, engineering and math, and everyone has forgotten what it is that makes us be men.  Psychology won't quite do it.  Sociology is a joke.  Feminine studies has only gotten us to misunderstand women; the purpose of gender studies was to destroy the idea of genders; and black studies has only made people crazy about blacks.   The humanities are supposed to teach you what people feel and how to move them.  It's the art of knowing our emotional springs and how to press them.  It teaches outsiders about insiders by putting outsiders on the inside of the things we've known about men and haven't changed about men since we became men.  A dead humanities department isn't a dead humanities department.  It's a generation of people who don't know what to do with people.  It forces us to rely on our instincts and reading at leisure, and in the process of doing so ruins our leaders.

People complaining that promotions are unfair and politics is too full of politics and good English is racist are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.  People who don't believe in humanities rarely expect that the world is all politics.  They have no idea that who you know and how you manage them has everything to do with your success; and that the art of relating is every bit as crucial to your success as how well you work and how honest you are.  The department of humanities teaches the art of being a human; and our dearth of humanities majors is a life without really great leaders and citizens.  We know this because our English professors don't know what to do with an English department.  We know this because they don't know what to do with an education.  And if our polling on their political preferences is right, they also don't know what to do with a nation.  They want to protect the littlest among us, and in the process have thrown away what it means to be great.

Your father,