Shakespeare in Sacramento, &c.

Detail of John Taylor portrait of Shakespeare, c.1610 (National Portrait Gallery)

One of the saddest articles of the year has been published in the Washington Post. It is a column by a high-school English teacher in Sacramento. Common Core requires her to teach Shakespeare to her students. And she objects.

“I am not supposed to dislike Shakespeare,” she says. “But I do.” Fair enough (I guess). She adds that “there is a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of my very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.”

The teacher says, “I do not believe that I am ‘cheating’ my students because we do not read Shakespeare.” So she has stopped already! “I do not believe that a long-dead, British guy is the only writer who can teach my students about the human condition.”

No, not the only one — but a pretty good one.

“Mostly,” the teacher continues, “I do not believe I should do something in the classroom just because it has ‘always been done that way.’”

That, I agree with — but sometimes people have a reason for doing things the way they have always been done. Sometimes a consensus or practice is arrived at for good reason.

“I am sad that so many of my colleagues teach a canon that some white people decided upon so long ago,” says the teacher.

And what does race have to do with it? Ah, a naive question. Are you perhaps new to America? In this country, race is poured on everything, like ketchup.

I’m going to quote just one sentence from this teacher before I quit: “Shakespeare lived in a pretty small world.”

Shakespeare’s world is so big that even the most capacious and imaginative of us can barely take it in. It is a world that is damn near without limit. Almost nothing human was unknown to Shakespeare. He is a miracle of universalism.

Years ago, someone quoted Maya Angelou to me. I hope that my source was right — because I so love the quote.

Angelou said (something like), “When I was young, I thought that Shakespeare must have been a black girl. How else could he know exactly how I felt?”

Yes. As for the English teacher in Sacramento, I’m afraid that her students are among the unluckiest in the world.

‐In recent years, I have noticed something strange. I especially notice it on campuses, at home and in Europe. The Left says nice or defensive things about religion — about one religion: Islam, and radical Islam, at that.

I never thought I would see it. When I was growing up, the Left usually poured scorn on religion. They certainly did it to Christianity. Believers were idiots, and they were responsible for endless harm in the world.

In a previous era, would the George Galloways be defending Islam — fundamentalist Islam, radical Islam? Did they?

It took 9/11 and the War on Terror for the Left, or many leftists, to have a kind or defensive word for religion. The criterion is Western civilization, or Judeo-Christianity: If you’re against it — if you war against it — you will find a sympathetic ear on the left.

What a world.

‐Some of the best people in the world are ex-jihadists. They are brave, too. They are as valuable as the ex-Communists always were. (Incidentally, half the founding writers and editors of National Review were ex-Communists.)

Here is an article from the Associated Press about an ex-jihadist — a former inmate of Guantanamo. Now he spends his time warning young people about the lure of jihad.

Have a paragraph:

A practicing Muslim, [Mourad] Benchellali above all strives to take the glamour out of jihad. As a 19-year-old, he viewed the voyage to al-Qaida’s training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a romantic adventure. The reality, he tells youths, was a shock: grinding physical exercises in blazing heat, weapons training and propaganda videos in the evening, along with mind-numbing organization rigorously enforced — and a compulsory 60-day minimum stay.

That was before 9/11 and the War on Terror.

Ex-jihadists such as Benchellali are known as “formers.” May these formers do for the world what those earlier formers, the ex-Communists, did so brilliantly and crucially.

That was one of Bill Buckley’s words for the role of the ex-Communists: “crucial.”

‐Every day, I see people taking pictures of themselves. This is a relatively new phenomenon. What will it do to human character, I wonder? What will it do to the human ego and personality? It has to have an effect, right? I mean, this constant self-photographing?

Perhaps experts have written about this already. They almost certainly have.

Forget the self-photographing: What about the fact that people are being photographed, by others, constantly? This has never happened before. And it has to have an effect, right? What it is, I don’t know. But I imagine it’s not very good . . .

‐This is an old, old story, but a fresh appearance of it:

A federal judge in New York has struck down a test used by New York City to vet potential teachers, finding the test of knowledge illegally discriminated against racial minorities due to their lower scores.

(For the article at large, go here.)

I have never been black in America, or anywhere else. And I can only guess at what I would do, say, or feel in those shoes, in that skin. But I think stories like this would drive me crazy.

I’d want to scream, “Not in my name! Let people study harder and do better on the test. Don’t scrap it, for heaven’s sake! How insulting!”

Again, I don’t know. I do know that, for black Americans, there are indignities of multifarious sorts, day in, day out.

‐This is kind of like a good-news, bad-news joke. I spotted it at the website of Tom Gross.

An important Jordanian writer — in fact, the head of that country’s authors union — has written a column saying that Islam is not responsible for terrorist acts. They have no basis in Islam.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news?

The acts are based on the Talmud.


‐I have a question: You call a company or institution, and the recorded voice on the other end says, “Listen carefully, as our options have changed.” Do anyone’s options not change?

‐Robert S. Wistrich, that scholar of anti-Semitism, has died. I’d like to note two things from his obit.

Recently, he wrote, “The Islamists are the spearhead of current anti-Semitism, aided and abetted by the moral relativism of all too many naive Western liberals.”

That is dead-on.

And Wistrich was once asked something like the following: “How can you do this work, devoting yourself to the study of anti-Semitism? How can you stand it? What sustains you?”

He answered, “Israel. This is the only place where I could ever carry out this work.”

Israel has a redeeming quality. It’s hard for many people to understand, evidently, but it shouldn’t be.

‐I love something that Nick Castellanos, the Detroit Tiger, said. His teammate, the miraculous Miguel Cabrera, hit a really long home run — something like 450 feet. Castellanos remarked, “I can’t hit a ball that far from second base.”

‐Yesterday, I closed my column with a Buckley story — a story about Priscilla Buckley. Today, I’d like to close it with something about Bill.

I thought of him when reading about Sonya Baumstein, a woman who is rowing across the Pacific. The article listed all that she was taking. Under “Food,” one found this:

More than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of food in the form of 900 dehydrated meals, 180 drink supplements — the equivalent of 7,000 to 10,000 calories a day, plus olive oil to help control weight loss. Included: supplements, Kit Kats, plenty of peanut butter.

Bill always packed plenty of peanut butter — for his transoceanic journeys and much shorter journeys, too.



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