Roger Barbee: Abused Beowulf
Posted at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 10, 2022
The great epic poem Beowulf dates from around the 7th century CE and in 3,182 lines of poetry tells the story of a great leader named Beowulf. It’s a beautiful story of early feudal England, full of battles, bravery, loyalty, evil, and early Christianity. For over 10 years, this was part of the ninth-grade curriculum I taught every fall.
Today I read that a senior in rural southwest Riner, Virginia reported his English teacher to state authorities for the way she taught the poem. He wrote on January 30 to the hotline set up by Governor Youngkin: “All my teacher wants to talk about is how sexist the book is because it portrays warriors as men and not as women. I believe my teacher is in violation of Governor Youngkin’s executive order that prohibits the teaching of “divisive topics.” ”
Guys! Which is worse – Youngkin’s Orwellian line or Beowulf’s so-called pathetic teacher’s instruction?
First of all, the whistleblowing line (or whistleblowing line) does not prohibit any bad teachers because once the whistleblowing is done, so is the teaching of “divisive issues”. Whatever instruction the teacher gave Riner was done before the student reported it. Of course, the reporting of a teacher teaching a divisive subject may prevent further teaching of such pedagogy considered dangerous. But how long does it take Youngkin’s bureaucracy to act? No arm of Big Brother can be effective in such situations, but I suggest that speaking with a teacher, department head, or principal can be a better way to combat such misguided instruction, which interests me the most. in this situation.
As written above, I taught Beowulf for over 10 years – at the toney prep school that Youngkin’s daughter attended and where he was a board member. (Although I left before the Youngkins arrived, the school’s soil philosophy has not changed and this literature is still part of the curriculum.) However, even in the all-female school, gender was not not a central topic in my Beowulf teaching. .
While the poem centers on the exploits of the men and their struggles, there are women present and some of them such as Thirth and Welthow are strong-willed, yet minor characters in the poem. But the poem tells the story of a 7th century feudal lord who is not an era of gender equality. To criticize the poem for this perceived weakness of which Riner’s misguided teacher is accused would be a mistake. Cultures such as those of Beowulf, Moses, Odysseus and Gilgamesh were patriarchal. To criticize their literature as sexist would be to condemn “To Kill a Mockingbird” as too southern.
I suggest that anyone unwilling to read or teach male-dominated literature stay away from almost any literature written before Bronte, Wolfe, or Austen. However, any English teacher should know not to teach because teacher Riner is charged by his student. If she did, shame on her. A note for the student: Beowulf is a poem, not a book as you write in your report.
If you’re reading it in prose form, I suggest you get a Burton Raffel translation and read the real thing.
So much is wrong with the events as reported. The lesson taught by the Commonwealth in having a ‘counsel line’, Youngkin’s hypocrisy in supporting a level of education for his own but treating voters’ children differently, and the teaching of teacher Riner (if the student report is accurate.) But these events show what can happen when we allow government to get involved in cultural issues. These are the kind of results you can expect.
Roger Barbee lives in Mooresville. Contact him at [email protected]