Back in the 1990s, an adjunct English professor at Bakersfield College used to start first-day freshman composition by writing the F-word on the whiteboard in big capital letters. She’d then turn around and explain the word’s etymology, point out that its moral connotation was entirely a construct, and tell the students in no uncertain terms that any scandal they felt was due to their parochial ignorance. She would disabuse them of this ignorance during the class in a semester-long crash course in cultural politics.
One wonders whether she ever got to the actual principles of English Composition.
I can’t remember Prof. F-bomb’s name. As I recall, though, her approach to English wasn’t atypical then. Not everyone was quite so aggressive or abrasive, but the tendency to make English about social politics and the “demystification” of language was widespread. English classes were less concerned with making meaning of language and literature than with laying bare the politics behind texts and