It was with some sadness that I read of the teaching of ethics by my colleague, Alan A. Stone, M.D. ’55, to his students at Harvard Law School. [“A Passport to the Young,” Yale Medicine, Autumn 2008] Stone felt obliged to turn to the movies because “few students had read Sophocles or Dostoevsky, Austen or Flaubert.” I was reminded of how startled I was some years ago to discover that one of my patients, a graduate student in literature at Yale and a magna cum laude graduate of Yale College, had never read a work by Shakespeare.

Should our top law and medical schools be admitting people who haven’t even a rudimentary reading knowledge of the Western canon? Perhaps what is needed is not a “new passport to the young,” but a reactivation of the old one. And perhaps we cannot absolve ourselves of some of the blame for the illiteracy of the young until we make it clear to them that we expect them to be literate.

Victor A. Altshul, M.D. ’60
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry