Monday, July 9, 2018

Humanists Against the Humanities


Even the academy must answer to the marketplace. Instead of a market for goods and services, the academy has a market in courses and concentrations. You see it in the number of students who sign up for courses in classics versus the number of students who enroll in chemistry or calculus.

We also know that the liberal arts have been infected with political correctness. Its courses still teach some of the classics, but they use them as vehicles to present ideas about systemic civilizational oppression. If you think that a course on Shakespeare is a course on Shakespeare you are blind to what is happening on today’s college campuses. The course is far more likely to concern itself with colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism. In truth, they might as well be analyzing comic books.

Why is this the case? I suspect that today’s professors, hired for reasons of ideological conformity and diversity do not know Shakespeare well enough to teach it. They are teaching what they know. Those are: radical leftist talking points. They recognize no objective standards so they see no difference between Hamlet and a comic book. They have turned their courses into indoctrination mills.

One must add that they have also dumbed down the curriculum. True enough, a few of the classics remain on the syllabi. But now professors must follow the laws of diversity. They must have a proportional number of writers who are not white males. Since most of the great minds in Western civilization bear the onus of being white males, students end up wallowing in the third-rate thought and the fourth-rate writing of authors chosen to fulfill a diversity quota.

If you do not read the best and do not learn how to appreciate the best you will end up mired in mediocrity.

This means that the average corporate recruiter, when he espies a number of humanities courses on a resume, looks elsewhere for a candidate. He knows that these courses do not grade fairly, when they deign to grade at all. Which would you prefer to hire: a humanities major or an engineering major?

Now, Mark Bauerlein explains, liberal arts professors and college administrators are bemoaning the fact that fewer and fewer students are signing up for their classes. Fewer students means that fewer professors will be hired. More professors will be forced out. Humanities departments, in particular are being hollowed out.

Of course, if students still retain some curiosity about the great works of Western civilization, their parents know better. Often enough, parents insist that their children not enroll in courses that will leave them woefully unprepared for real work in the real world.

Bauerlein quotes a whiny statement from the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and Universities:

The motivation for the statement stems from the deterioration of the liberal arts in higher education. The statement puts it this way: “the disciplines of the liberal arts, once universally regarded as central to the intellectual life of the university, have been steadily moved to the periphery and increasingly threatened.” Note carefully the phrasing. We have a passive verb, “have been steadily moved,” implying an outside force has displaced the liberal arts. The liberal arts themselves, which is to say, the professors who administer them, have played no role in that marginalization. It’s somebody else’s fault.

Having ruined their disciplines, these academics are out looking for someone to blame:

After a dash, we have another 11 words that amount to a list of the culprits. They are: “some administrators, elected officials, journalists, and parents of college-age children.” Though the authors don’t specify their actions, anybody who has followed higher education matters can infer what these interlopers in the Ivory Tower have done to harm the fields. The politicians have cut university budgets and journalists have written stories on political correctness in the humanities and social sciences, as well as rumors of the low marketability of liberal arts degrees. Parents have taken their word and pushed their kids toward STEM and business fields. When enrollments in English, history, and the rest drop, administrators see those departments as cost-ineffective and look for ways to restructure them or close them down entirely. None of those parties, the authors imply, appreciate the liberal arts as anything but an economic enterprise.

Bauerlein continues, shredding the sloppy thinking of America’s leading academics:

It doesn’t want to recognize the central place of the professors in the decline. The teaching and scholarship of liberal arts professors are not described as strengths upon which to build a defense of the liberal arts. There is no sentence that goes, “In humanities classrooms, students receive instruction from men and women who are learned, reflective, dynamic, and discerning.” Instead, the authors talk about “the disciplines,” and they value those disciplines in broad, watery terms. What makes the liberal arts meritorious is that they raise important questions, “questions about justice, about community, about politics and culture, about difference in every sense of the word.”

As for learning how to think and learning how to write, learning from the best thinkers and the best writers, not a single word. Today’s academics are obsessed with justice, with social justice, with diversity and with “difference in every sense of the word.” The last phrase is incoherent. 

One understands that “difference” is a buzzword from the world of deconstruction. Among its implications… if everyone is different, there can’t be community. Liberal arts professors no longer care to promote a nation whose motto e pluribus unum means “out of many, one.” Its goal is to disintegrate the nation, to atomize it into unique human monads, into groups of people who lack a common interest, lack a common culture and who prefer to be ignorant and opinionated.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I blame Trump.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Jonah Goldberg has suggested that this is part of the anti-Asian admissions bias in elite universities as well. Those will disproportionately take STEM courses and be underrepresented in Sectarian Studies, putting further downward pressure on the value of those course.

Sam L. said...

Progressives! Killing their golden geese. Shows how dumb they are. (Couldn't happen to nicer people.)