Today’s Dispatch From “The Great Stupid”: The Chivalry Assignment (Corrected)


At Texas’s Shallowater High School, a “chivalry” assignment given to female students required girls to “dress in a feminine manner,” lower their heads and curtsy to please men, “walk behind men daintily as if their feet were bound,” and “not complain or whine.” The boys were told to dress in jackets and ties, pick up any object dropped by “the ladies” and to hold doors open, among other things.

The alleged purpose of the assignment was to “demonstrate to the school how the code of chivalry and standards set in the medieval concept of courtly love carries over into the modern day.” An assignment sheet included a set of “rules” with a line for an “adult witness signature” next to each:

Chivalry assignment

As any idiot should have been able to predict—though apparently the educators responsible for this were special idiots—the assignment made its way to social media, there was a general freak-out, and the school was forced to disavow the exercise.

In a statement to CBS News, the public relations director for the school said: “This assignment has been reviewed, and despite its historical context, it does not reflect our district and community values. The matter has been addressed with the teacher, and the assignment was removed.”

That’s a start. Now remove the teacher, the principal, and anyone responsible for hiring these hacks. There isn’t anything educational about that assignment. It’s feminist agitprop. What “historical context”? That isn’t a fair or accurate representation of chivalry or the social system that spawned it, just a dumbed down, activist’s eye view of one tiny aspect of a complex culture.

Or did the teachers even know what culture they were talking about? “As if their feet were bound”???

Such assignments teach nothing, unless you count learning that the public school teaching profession has hit rock bottom. They take up time that should be spent, oh, I don’t know, reading “Ivanhoe,” or Will Durant’s “The Age of Chivalry,” or “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present” by Jacques Barzun. That amazing book doesn’t cover chivalry, but students would learn more in any paragraph than they would playing “Chivalry for Dummies,” which is what that assignment amounts to.

12 thoughts on “Today’s Dispatch From “The Great Stupid”: The Chivalry Assignment (Corrected)

  1. Sounds as if “the context” is some mythical misunderstanding of the ante bellum South or a bad rendition of Regency England. Couldn’t they just read and discuss “Gone with the Wind” or “Pride and Prejudice”? Both of which were written by, you know, terribly insightful and talented … women.

  2. What utter garbage. As a long time scholar of chivalry, knighthood, the Middle Ages, and the heroic ideal, I can tell you this assignment is nowhere near what the chivalrous idea or the ideal of courtly love was all about. For starters, chivalry was an idea for knights and nobles, not ordinary people, who were often too easy eking out a bare living to worry about such niceties.

    Among the knights and nobles, though, no lady in Medieval Europe ever had bound feet. That cruel practice was something that was done in Mandarin China, from an early age, to make noblewomen’s feet unnaturally tiny. Medieval noblewomen did walk daintily, but that was because they were often wearing two and three layers of clothing, which was very heavy and made it difficult to take big steps. EVERYONE in those class-conscious days addressed a superior by title, and often by bowing. Knights and ladies of equal rank would frequently bow, nod etc. to each other, because that was that era’s handshake, it was just something you did to be polite. Complaining and whining is and was always frowned upon, that has nothing to do with chivalry. Conversation and criticism were governed as much by rank as by gender. A knight wouldn’t initiate conversation with or criticize a baron, and so on up the line, although sometimes that got bent and you would ask your superior to speak candidly. Contact between the genders was limited and regulated, but distinctions of rank still applied, a knight would still have to be deferential to a countess or duchess.

    Cooking and providing drinks? That’s something most of the chivalric class and noble class had servants to do, and often the lady of the castle was the one who ran the household while the knight or nobleman was out fighting or attending to whatever. God help you if you were lower ranking and displeased her. Now, the rules of hospitality were something else, and everyone was expected to provide for guests, especially higher ranking ones. If you were a count or a baron and a higher ranking nobleman or the king came through, you better be prepared to kill the fatted calf and give him all the best you can muster. Fail to impress him, and your fortunes might decline very precipitously. Oh, and cleaning? That’s what servants were for too. The lady of the castle might supervise the cleaning people, if the castle was too small to justify a butler or other chief servant, but she’d be very unlikely to join in herself.

    Intellectual superiority? Obedience of any male? Who are you kidding? If the women were wise, they didn’t join in conversations that they did not have the knowledge base for, and, unfortunately, that often meant conversations got very segregated, as the knights and noblemen talked of battles and diplomacy and the ladies talked of household things. Obedience to any male is ridiculous. A chivalric or noble woman answered to her father before she was married and to her husband after, usually nobody else unless a superior demanded something of her, but everybody was expected to obey a superior.

    This is before we even talk about courtly love. As often as not noble and chivalric women had very little choice in the matter and were married off to political allies to cement alliances or to those not allies to make them allies or end a feud. If, however, you were a member of the class and wished to pursue an available noble or chivalric lady, you had to ask her father for permission to court her, then impress her family with what you did, how you handled yourself, and what you brought to the table. You of course didn’t interact with her much, except under the close eye of her father, her brothers, and their retainers. Eventually her family would consent and you could marry her, or they would not consent and they’d send you on your way. In later romances that’s why you see fictional heroes worshipping princesses from afar like porcelain statues and trying to impress the royal family by jousting evil knights, defeating monsters, etc. That’s why El Cid had to defeat the King of Aragon’s champion to win Ximena (although it didn’t help that he’d killed her father for insulting his), that’s why Beren had to retrieve a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth to win Luthien (I’d love to get into a whole discussion about Tolkien’s rather ridiculous love stories and why I think they are ridiculous, but there isn’t time here), etc. In Peter Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” Prince Lir tries RIDICULOUSLY hard to impress the eponymous unicorn when she is in human form as Lady Amalthea, and wonders what the heck he is doing wrong when she is unresponsive.

    This isn’t chivalry, this is, as you say, feminist agitprop, and an attempt to instill the idea that women have been oppressed hard until Gloria Steinem and company came along and told those oppressive men to go straight to hell. It’s also the idea that any man who tries to be polite is really just oppressing women a different way. Why is it I have started to form the belief that a lot of these feminists just hate men generally?

    • I read some of Gloria Steinam’s biography. Her father was a louse of epic proportions and I think that shaped her to essentially despise men. An over simplification perhaps, but whew, there’s always been some deep-seated anger there.

    • One rather material caveat: young, aristocratic boys were generally sent to be “nourished” in the household of a superior as part of their education. For some, that superior could be a bishop, but it was usually a secular noble. Part of that involved the boys acting as servants, e.g. currying horses (see also “fagging” in British public schools). That had a moral point, teaching a measure of humility, and a practical one, teaching the boys to know what was what. Without the latter they could end up the unwitting captives of the servants they later directed, from being too dependent on what they were told. Similar things applied to girls’ upbringing, though possibly in a less structured way.

      For another literary introduction to the topic – an extended metaphor – see Chivalry by James Branch Cabell.

      • Or from the age of seven you could be a page until 14, when you became a squire, essentially a personal servant to a knight. Finally at 21, if you passed all the tests and they decided you were worthy, you donned your white tunic, your red robe, and your black doublet, spent the night in the chapel keeping vigil over your armor and weapons, and in the morning you put on your armor, buckled on your sword, and were given the accolade (usually a stronger whack than the tapping you see now), making you a knight. Huzzah!

        • That”s almost correct, apart from that first word, “or”. What you described is the formal pattern of what boys typically went through during the “nourishing” that I described, it was not an alternative to it, at any rate during the High Middle Ages. If anything, the sort of education a boy might get in a bishop’s palace was an alternative if he went there instead, though it was not the norm. In later generations, it was how Sir Thomas More (not yet “Sir”) was educated. The wider custom may well be connected to similar fostering among the Norse, in earlier times.

          That alternative via the religious establishment ties in to what I mentioned elsewhere, about how British public schools got their start in the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. When those went, so did, the educational by product of them (for the middle class) and of the bishops (for some of the upper class). A generation later or so, the shortfall of educated people began to show up and prompted setting up charitable foundations to provide grammar schools – and the rest is history.

  3. So my first thought was, wait “public relations director for the school”??? — wow, I didn’t think high schools had public relations directors when I was in Lubbock.

    My second thought — what twaddle — was superbly detailed by Steve.

    But I do have a quibble: As far as I know there is no Shallowater HIgh School in Lubbock. There is, however, a town called Shallowater in West Texas (a small town). If memory serves it’s about 50 miles from Lubbock — to be fair, that’s almost next door — and doubtless has a high school named after the town.

  4. I’m pretty sure we’re well past the point where putting your kids in the public school system should be considered child abuse…

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