Culture wars and language arts education: readings of Othello as a school text




Mitha, Farouk

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Relationships between the terms culture and education are often taken for granted in educational research. This study challenges some of the taken for granted assumptions around the term culture in educational contexts, particularly in secondary language arts education. It examines these assumptions through an analysis of three debates from the contemporary culture wars in education. The implications of these debates on uses of the term culture in secondary language arts education are examined through Othello as a secondary school text. I am arguing that these debates, namely, on the literary canon, multicultural education, and cultural literacy, represent intractable conflicts over definitions of the term culture. In light of these conflicts, the aim of this study is to provide language arts educators with analytical tools for developing greater theoretical rigour when defining the term culture in language arts education. Drawing on recent theoretical writings on culture, concepts of cultural capital, cultural rights, and cultural reproduction are proposed as analytical tools. I then apply these to develop a methodological approach by which to structure my analysis of Othello as a school text. The study makes a theoretical contribution by bringing into sharper focus ways in which the ideological opposition between expressions of cultural right versus cultural left perspectives is articulated in language arts education, as well as illustrating that claims about culture in the canon debate reflect competing normative assumptions; in the multicultural education debate they reflect competing essentialist constructions; and in the cultural literacy debate they reflect competing empowerment goals. Such cultural debates have a long history and thus the study also situates the contemporary culture wars in education within a wider historical context by tracing related conflicts in the history of literary criticism on and performances of Othello over the past four centuries.



Culture Wars, Othello, Language Arts education