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September 08, 1988 - Image 43

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-09-08

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 8, 1988 - Page 7

ACADEMICS

Rewriting

BY ALYSSA LUSTIGMAN
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton,
Dickens, Hawthorne, Emerson: au-
thors on a typical English class syl-
labus. All are highly respected, trad-
itional, educated men. All are white
British or American men.
But many educators feel this
"canon" - the term for literature
considered impor-
tant for students -
ought to be ex-
panded to include
Academics the views and
works of more
women and min-
orities.
THE ENGLISH Department is
the first University department to act
on these concerns. Starting this fall,
all English majors who had not pre-
viously declared their concentrations
,dill be required to take a class on
"new traditions" - one of several
classes dealing with minorities or
women in literature.
June Howard, associate chair of
the English Department, said the de-
partment has been debating the
mandatory class for several years.
"People were saying we need to be
more aware of the multiplicity of
traditions in English," she said.
Howard said she supported the re-
quirement because "having an exclu-
sively Eurocentric, masculine canon
is obsolete in our field." She added
that some English classes also em-
phasize a re-reading of traditional
texts while more carefully consider-
ing minority viewpoints.
The class is in part a reaction to
increasing awareness of racism on
campus - specifically racist inci-
dents in spring 1987 - Howard
said, incidents that gave the campus
"a greater sense of internationalism
and diversity of cultures in the U.S."
STUDENTS have reacted posi-
tively to the course.
Lisa Pera, an LSA junior and
English major, said the courses she

has taken so far in her department
have mostly reflected white male
writers. A requirement such as the
new traditions course, she said,
"exposes me to literature I might
otherwise not see."
But Pera said the department
should be careful not to institute too
many requirements or the "fun of
learning will be gone."
Susan Overdorf, vice president of
the Michigan Student Assembly,
also supports the requirement.
"Courses like these are the only way
we can stop the focus on white male
society, which is really a minor part
of our culture."
ENGLISH PROF. Lemuel
Johnson agreed. "It is dangerous for
any discipline to propose to make
comments on 'universal values' and
'mankind' without taking into con-
sideration a great portion of society."
Some feel the English require-
ment reflects a larger change taking
place in higher education to include
classes on minority viewpoints, ra-
cism, and sexism. Stanford Uni-
versity changed its first-year Western
Civilization requirement to include
literature of women and minorities,
calling the class, "Culture, Ideas,
Values."
In a June 5 New York Times
Magazine article exploring the idea
of an "expanding canon," Secretary
of Education William Bennett said
he was strongly opposed to such a
change.
"The West is the culture in which
we live, it has set the moral, politi-
cal, economic and social standards
for the rest of the world," and should
therefore be the dominant model for
thoughts, Bennett said.
BUT MANY others disagree.
Canon revision is taking place at
schools including Duke, Berkeley,
Harvard - and Michigan.
The University may be following
in Stanford's footsteps by instituting
a mandatory course on diversity and

Iw wIw z
undergraduate studies in the College
of Engineering, said although his
school is not considering any co
lege-wide courses, a smaller, exper-
imental course is being offered this
fall on "Technology and Society."
"The course examines the cultural
and international aspects of technol-
ogy and society," he said, "providing
a broad-based spectrum of ideas."
Enrollment in the Engineering
class is not mandatory, and is lim-
ited to 30 students because of its"
seminar format.
"We plan to start small with -a
pilot program, and hope to expand it
to a larger program," said Lohmann,
who added he doubts the college will'
implement a single course devoted to
issues of racism and sexism.
ANOTHER prominent trend i
LSA is an emphasis on critical'
thinking - examining the history
of a discipline rather than just the
discipline itself.
Larry Mohr, a professor of
political science, is the chair of
"Collegiate Fellows," a group of
faculty -who support critical think-
ing-oriented classes. The group re-
ceived a $220,000 grant from the
Undergraduate Initiatives Fund last,
year to support faculty membets
who designed or redesigned courses
to incorporate critical thinking.
The purpose,. Mohr said, is to
"get students to think actively and
creatively and not just accept things'
on authority. We want then to de-
velop their own ideas," he said.
Ten or 12 new courses have been
planned or are in the works for the
fall term. Classes range from "What
is Literature?" to "Introduction to
Mathematical Logic." The group
hopes to apply for a second-year
grant and will continue to expand the
critical thinking program until it in-
cludes about 60 courses.
1

ROBIN LOZNAK/Daily

Terminal condition

If LSA senior Estee Mermelstein looks a bit unhappy here, keep in mind you paid $100 to
help make her that way - that's the amount added to students' tuition bills each year to
pay for the computers at which she's slaving.

racism. The course, which is still in
the planning stages, would be re-
quired for all LSA students.
Several LSA professors, who
comprise a group known as Con-
cerned Faculty, plan to propose the
course to the LSA curriculum com-
mittee in September.
English Prof. William "Buzz"
Alexander, one of the group's mem-
bers, said the course won't be lim-
ited to a specific department, but
will take in a wide range of fields,
including history, sociology, biol-

ogy, economics, literature, and phi-
losophy.
"RACISM is the most deeply
rooted problem in our society, and
we have seen it in the University.
We need a course to address this
sore," Alexander said.
Overdorf said MSA would sup-
port a mandatory course on racism.
"We need to educate students about
other cultures and ways of life. (This
course) would give people a better
understanding, and would help avoid
disharmony."
She added the course would be

more effective than the administra-
tion's anti-discriminatory policy -
enacted last April - which imposes
sanctions for non-academic conduct;
"We need to educate, not punish,"
she said.
LSA Assistant Dean for Curricu-
lum and Long-Range.Planning Jack
Meiland said he has not yet seen any
specific program proposals. He
would not comment on the idea of
the mandatory class.
LSA IS NOT the only college
exploring such changes. Jack Loh-
mann, associate dean for graduate and

4

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