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Sunday, February 27, 2022

Yale Has A New Happiness Course–And The Value Of An Ivy League Education Has Unhappily Gone Way, Way Down

Ellicott Hall moaned when he heard that his daughter, Emily, was enrolled in Yale’s Happiness Course, officially entitled ‘Psychology and the Good Life’, but known on campus by its more popular name.  Ellicott, who had graduated from Yale a number of years before his daughter was born, had been a student of Paul Weiss, Harold Bloom, and Vincent Scully, a triad of thinkers unmatched in the Ivy League.

Image result for images harold bloom

Bloom’s course in Romantic Poetry was one of the university’s best – two weeks to parse and deconstruct the meaning of Blake’s spare, elegant poem, The Tyger, and by so doing encouraged epiphanies of meaning not only of the poem, Blake, and Romantic poetry, but all poetry.  Bloom understood that every word, every line, each stanza of the epigrammatic poem had a reference to the Old Testament, Norse myth, and Freud.  The Romantic poets, Blake being primus inter pares, had all mastered allegory, metaphor, and symbolism and synthesized them in a few lines.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art, 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,  
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Image result for images william blake

What was that fearful symmetry? Bloom asked.  What dread grasp and what deadly terrors? No student left Bloom’s course without Tyger permanently recorded and without a vision of Mosaic Harold Bloom, looking up and out the window to the bird on whose wings the Tyger – all of us? the sage, the prophet? – aspired.

No student who witnessed Scully’s exuberance, his vitality, and his insights into ancient architecture and the natural world which inspired them ever forgot him. The horned mountains of Crete had immanent power that overwhelmed the individual, gave birth to the myth of the Minotaur, and inspired the monumental works of the period.  Only in Scully’s class were art, mythology, environment, and architecture so convincingly unified.

Image result for images cretan minotaur

Paul Weiss in his course on metaphysics asked students to consider meaning – not the facile search for answers to common questions -  why are we here and where are we going? - but serious meaning.  Meaning extracted from texts, equations, and physical conundrums.

So it was no wonder that Ellicott moaned when he heard of his daughter’s choice of curricula.  He had already become somewhat used to Yale’s new courses – ‘Queer Wagons – The Chronicles Of Gay Pioneer Women’; ‘Which End Is Up? The Nature of Transgender Reality’; and ‘Washington, Jefferson, and Madison – America’s Racist Past’ – and knew that employers would look only at the Summa Cum Laude degree and not what courses contributed to it.  Yet America was so awash in conversations about race, gender, and ethnicity, that a university course beating a dead horse made no intellectual sense and certainly no economic one. There would be no discussion about Keat’s To Autumn on CNN and MSNBC; and so if it were gone from Yale, it would be gone forever.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run…

Image result for images poet keats

“It’s not like I’m going to major in Happiness, Dad”, Emily was quick to point out, seeing her father’s shoulders sag; but the damage had been done.  A NYT article reviewing the course and summarizing its central themes only made matters worse.

“So what’s the answer?”, the journalist wrote. “What’s the purpose of life? It’s smelling your coffee in the morning, loving your kids, having sex and daisies and springtime.  It’s all the good things in life.  That’s what it is.”

When Ellicott was at Yale, he had taken a course on Early Medieval French poetry, and moved by Francois Villon’s ‘La Ballade des Pendus’, he went to New Haven’s historic Grove Street Cemetery, sat among the graves where he could hear the carillon ringing from Harkness Tower, and read it there.

Human brothers who live while we are no more,

do not harden your hearts against us,

for if you have mercy on us

God will likewise have mercy on you.

You see us tied here by five of six,

as for the flesh we served too much

it is now eaten away and rotten

and we are but bones turning to ash and dust.

Image result for new haven grove street cemetery images

Ah, those were the days, Ellicott thought; but Francois Villon, Keats, and Blake were now unknown poets, casually removed from the curriculum in favor of more ‘relevant’ courses, their poetry digitally recorded and their original volumes stored in controlled atmosphere, hermetically sealed vaults in the  Beinecke Rare Book Library.  They were as good as gone.

The Happiness Course and other curricular adjustments made to focus on the here-and-now, personal identity, and ‘doctrinal integrity’ were only parts of the university’s clean sweep.  The names of the residential colleges were being cancelled to remove any traces of slave-holding, racism, and white privilege; and replaced by others of less stature and historical importance but with more acceptable racial and gender credentials.  New rules of classroom behavior were to be instituted to ensure that sexist pronouns and references were replaced by gender neutral terms.  ‘His’ and ‘Her’ were to be replaced by these terms:

HE/SHE zie, sie, ey, ve, tey

HIM/HER zim, sie, em, ver, ter, em

HIS/HER zir, hir, eir, vis tem, eir

Me/Too Movement campus activists were instrumental in changing procedures for addressing alleged sexual abuse; and, because of women’s long history of suffering at the hands of male patriarchy and the need to redress this persistent wrong, they said, women’s word was taken as fact, and men were forced to admit wrongdoing, take censure, punishment, and dismissal without the tedious process of a trial.

Speech in all forms – in the classroom, in term papers, on the campus, and on Yale-oriented social media sites – was to be monitored for correctness; that is, conforming to the newly instituted policies of what Yale called ‘An Inclusive University’. 

As much as Ellicott was dismayed by the revelations of university policy, curriculum, and procedure, Yale was one of the more moderate schools.  Some of the smaller, less well-known liberal arts schools of the Northeast became virtual gulags of censure.  They were academic dens of thieves – cabals of older, tenured, unreconstructed Sixties liberals, feminist firebrands, transgender activists, and Black Lives Matter racial overseers.

Emily Hall did well at Yale – summa cum laude like her father; but since she, her colleagues, and the university had dumbed down the elite degree, how could anyone take today’s Yale pedigree seriously? And new professors, schooled in post-modern, deconstructionist, theories of race and gender, were a dime a dozen – cheap by Ivy League standards, but what the market would bear. A win-win for Yale.

Ellicott went back to Yale for his 50th Reunion and was once again impressed with the university.  Yale was not just any university, and he felt proud that he had gone there.  But when he looked around and strolled past the classrooms where ‘relevant’ teachers rattled on about racial injustice and the gender spectrum, his spirits sank.  Not only had the intellectual integrity of the university been compromised, he had lost all connection with it.  It was not his university.  It was someone else’s.

Image result for images yale university

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