To study or not to study, That is the question . . .Jan. 24, 1997
By Martha Roberts
Today's English majors may no longer have to take it for granted that they'll be studying Shakespeare, a new study says.
The National Alumni Forum, a non-profit group that focuses on monitoring what it sees as declining academic standards in America, issued a report saying that only about a third of the 70 institutions they studied required English majors to take Shakespeare courses. Only 23 of the institutions studied had such a requirement.
One great concern to the forum is the increasing amount of courses on such popular culture themes as soap operas, sexuality and fashion literature.
According to the Jan. 10 issue of The Chronicle for Higher Education, the study was commissioned after a curriculum controversy at Georgetown University last spring. The English department at Georgetown ceased requiring that English majors study two of three renowned English authors: John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.
Dr. Jerry Martin, president of the forum, explained the forum's concern.
'Shakespeare is the most essential author in the English language. He would be cross-culturally recognized as the most important writer in any language,' Martin said.
Dr. Maurice Hunt, professor and acting English department chair , shared Martin's concern.
'I think it's unfortunate that at quite a few universities, Shakespeare appears to be de-emphasized,' Hunt said. 'What you call a classical education was developed as a concerted effort of thousands of minds, for good reason.'
'It's a sifting process. Dante, Shakespeare and Milton have survived it ... to dismiss them is unfortunate,' Hunt said.
However, the Modern Language Association objected to the forum's conclusions. In their own random survey of curriculum requirements in 1991-92, the MLA reported that 60.8 percent of the 366 institutions they studied required English majors to take Shakespeare--6.6 percent more than in 1984-85.
Phyllis Franklin, executive director of the M.L.A, said, 'It's very nice of them to worry about Shakespeare, but it's a little like offering to help the Chicago Bulls.'
According to Hunt, most English majors do take the upper level Shakespeare courses.
'Shakespeare's art is sufficiently multivalent that each culture can find meanings in Shakespeare's work that illuminate their life,' Hunt said. 'That's always true.'
Hunt described the current trend as a result of postmodernist aesthetics, which 'tends to find as much value in comic books as classics.'
Hunt was quick to point out that he was in no way denigrating popular culture, only drawing a distinction.
At Baylor, the undergraduate catalogue states that English majors are 'strongly encouraged' to take a Shakespeare course, though it isn't required. Majors are required to take a course in nine of 11 areas, one of which is Shakespeare.
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