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University drops sonnets because they are ‘products of white western culture’

The form has appealed to major poets for five centuries

The University of Salford, a public university in Greater Manchester, England, removed sonnets and other “pre-established literary forms” from a creative writing course assessment, The Telegraph reported.

Course leaders of a creative writing module titled “Writing Poetry in the Twenty-First Century,” removed an exam section that required students to write the traditional forms, including sestinas and sonnets, according to the newspaper.

The sonnet, a poetic form that likely originated in Italy in the 13th century, has been taken up by writers such as Petrarch, Shakespeare and John Donne, according to Britannica.

“The sonnet is unique among poetic forms in Western literature in that it has retained its appeal for major poets for five centuries,” the encyclopedia stated.

A University of Salford slideshow shared with staff stated that teachers have “simplified the assessment offering choice to write thematically rather than to fit into pre-established literary forms…which tend to the products of white western culture,” according to documents cited by The Telegraph.

The slideshow affirmed the change as an example of best practice in “decolonising the curriculum.” The Telegraph defined “decolonising” as “a term used to describe refocusing curricula away from historically dominant Western material and viewpoints.”

Instead, the course will incorporate “inclusive criteria” that better “reflect and cater for a diverse society,” according to internal training materials review by The Telegraph. The materials also showed that the courses could be upgraded by utilizing “a choice of assessment methods” allowing students to be tested “in a way that suits them.”

British historian: assuming sonnets alienate non-white students is ‘hugely patronising’

The Telegraph quoted Oxford-trained historian Zareer Masani’s statement that the course overhaul was “outrageous.”

“It is hugely patronising to assume non-White students would be put off by Western poetic forms,” he said. “Poetic forms vary widely across the world, but good poetry is universal.”

Scott Thurston, leader of the creative writing program at Salford, said the course was “often updated to take account of new trends and development in contemporary writing,” according to The Telegraph.

Thurston said that teachers would still instruct creative writing students in traditional forms in their first year and give them exercises in writing them. However, the curriculum would also include creative experimentation with students’ “own forms.”

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About the Author
Margaret has previously worked as an associate editor of Columbia magazine, an editorial assistant at DNAinfo.com, and an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Phoenix. She holds a B.A. from New York University and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.