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Education Reporter

What Do College Students Learn in ‘English’?
What Are We Paying Professors to Teach?

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Cho Seung-Hui's murder of 32 students and teachers shook the nation, provoking many questions and fears. What influences are at work in our nation, adding to the confusion so many young people experience?

As an English Department major and senior, what did Cho learn in his courses at Virginia Tech? Every year, the Young America's Foundation identifies the "Dirty Dozen," the twelve college courses where ideology most heavily outweighs learning. In these courses, many of them in English departments, opportunistic professors expound their favorite "-isms" before a captive audience of impressionable students. English professors often borrow these -isms, such as Marxism and Freudianism, from other disciplines where they are now discredited. Radical feminism also dominates many modern English departments.

A look at the websites of Virginia Tech's English Department and of its professors reveals many such ideologies. We don't yet know all of the courses Cho took, but they could have been any of these.

Did he take Professor Bernice L. Hausman's English 5454 called "Studies in Theory: Representing Female Bodies"? The titles of the assigned readings include "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature," "The Comparative Anatomy of Hottentot Women in Europe, 1815-1817," "Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace," "The Anthropometry of Barbie: Unsettling Ideals of the Feminine Body in Popular Culture," and "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power."

One of the assignments in this course (worth 10% of the total grade) is to "choose one day in which they dress and comport themselves in a manner either more masculine or more feminine than they would normally."

Hausman uses "feminist pedagogy" theory, believing that sex and gender are merely "rhetorical constructs" resulting from cultural experiences, and that "students are more responsible for the creation of knowledge." She lists her areas of expertise as "sexed embodiment, feminist and gender theory, and cultural studies of medicine."

Other titles authored by Professor Hausman include "Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender," "Do Boys Have to Be Boys?", and "Virtual Sex, Real Gender: Body and Identity in Transgender Discourse."

Perhaps Cho took Professor Bernice Hausman's English 3354 on "Fundamentals" for which the syllabus promises an understanding of "deconstruction" (a favorite word in English departments).

Did Cho get evil egotistical notions from Professor Shoshana Milgram Knapp's senior seminar called "The Self-Justifying Criminal in Literature"? Indeed, that could serve as his own self-portrait.

Did Cho take Professor J.D. Stahl's senior seminar, English 4784, on "The City in Literature"? The assigned reading starts with a book about an urban prostitute who finally kills herself and a book about a violent man who kills his girlfriend.

Did Cho take a course from Professor Paul Heilker, author of a piece called "Textual Androgyny, the Rhetoric of the Essay, and the Politics of Identity in Composition (or The Struggle to Be a Girly-Man in a World of Gladiator Pumpitude)"?

Or maybe Cho preferred the undiluted Marxism espoused by English instructor Allen Brizee, who wrote: "Everyday, the capitalist system exploits millions of people. . . . Our role in the capitalist system makes us guilty of oppression!"

Virginia Tech's Distinguished Professor of English, Nikki Giovanni, has built a reputation as a renowned poet, even though many of her poems feature violent themes and contain words that are not acceptable in civil discourse. She specializes in diversity, post-modernism, feminism, and multiculturalism.

Giovanni appeared last year at a public celebration to open Cincinnati's new Fountain Square. She used the occasion to call Ken Blackwell, then the Republican candidate for Ohio Governor, an "S.O.B.", and when challenged, simply repeated the slur.

We know that Cho took several creative writing classes. Giovanni taught him briefly in the fall of 2005, then had him removed from her class. His writing and erratic behavior frightened other students. Another creative writing teacher chose to tutor him separately, rather than let him come to class, for the same reasons. "I knew when it happened that that's probably who it was," said Giovanni of the shooting.

"When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare," wrote former Virginia Tech student Ian McFarlane about another creative writing class, which he and Cho both took. "The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of." The English Department, not missing the fact that Cho was "troubled," did refer him to counseling based on his stories and plays.

Another class we know Cho took was "Contemporary Horror," where he and victim Ross Alameddine (one of the students who was tragically killed) sat a few feet apart for months. The students in this class were required to keep what were known as "fear journals."

Cho was a frequent user of eBay. He bought and sold many books about violence, death and mayhem, including several books he had used in his English classes.

Other books Cho sold on the eBay-affiliated site Half.com included books by three authors whose other writings were taught in his Contemporary Horror class. He sold Men, Women, and Chainsaws, The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, and The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense.

Cho said on the video he sent to NBC, "You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours." He was wrong-the decision and responsibility were his.

Even so, how do politically doctrinaire, ideologically driven courses affect a student who is already confused and full of hatred? Could a course like "Contemporary Horror" do further psychological damage? And what is the difference between a "normal" poem about anger and violence and the creative writing of a dangerous potential killer? In the coming months, Virginia Tech and other universities will need to ask themselves such questions.

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