English 'operated as a language of the coloniser', students are told

English ‘operated as a language of the coloniser’, students at top university that produced several world-renowned authors are told

  • The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing to ‘decolonise’ its courses
  • It is the latest controversial move by institutions to make lessons more diverse 
  • Critics claim the move is ‘anti-academic’ and ‘corrosive’ and political dogma

Students at a university that has produced a string of world-renowned authors are to be taught that English ‘operated as a language of the coloniser’.

The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia – which boasts Nobel Prize laureate Kazuo Ishiguro and the Booker Prize winners Ian McEwan and Anne Enright among its alumni – is to ‘decolonise’ its courses following demands from students.

The decision is the latest controversial move by institutions to make lessons more diverse – but critics claim it is ‘anti-academic’ and ‘corrosive’.

The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia is to ‘decolonise’ its courses following demands from students

Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, said: ‘The project of decolonising the English language has nothing to do with genuine academic concerns. Associating the evils of colonialism with English literature is more about turning the subject into a political dogma than studying the merits of different writing and authors.

‘None of this is about English literature. It is using English literature as a medium to make a statement about how morally superior these students are.’

Documents obtained using Freedom of Information rules show the department will abandon its Literature In History II module, which includes works by Shakespeare and Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day.

Instead, a new course entitled Writing Across Borders will focus on ‘the way English operated as a language of the coloniser’. The reading list includes Zong!, a book-length poem by Caribbean-born writer Marlene NourbeSe Philip that uses court documents to detail the massacre of 150 Africans thrown overboard from a British slave ship in 1781 so that its owners could claim the insurance.

The change was sparked by a letter from students last year that described the current course as being dominated by ‘white, cisgendered male authors’, and centred on the ‘privileged, white, male experience’.

It accused the department of being ‘complicit in upholding exclusionary, erasive, patriarchal, heteronormative and white supremacist standards’.

Documents obtained using Freedom of Information rules show the department will abandon its Literature In History II module, which includes works by Shakespeare and Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘The world of education seems to become madder by the day. Demonising great writers because they were white is an absurdity. Young people need to understand that a capacity for good or evil is not skin colour dependent.’

A spokesman for the University of East Anglia said: ‘Work that diversifies our curriculum and enhances quality is wholly integrated.

‘We are proud to celebrate the vast literature from around the world that includes many publications by our own award-winning graduates.

‘The Office for Students [regulator] requires us to consider social inclusion and diversity in our approaches to teaching and learning, and expects us to listen when our students raise points with us about their experiences.’

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