Thursday, June 6, 2013

Did the Counterculture Kill the Humanities?

Being something of a humanist myself, I have paid close attention to the decline and fall of the Humanities.

As the narrative is being spun, college students have figured out that a degree in the Humanities is a one-way ticket to the unemployment line, so they have been avoiding them.

The Wall Street Journal reports the bad news:

Among recent college graduates who majored in English, the unemployment rate was 9.8%; for philosophy and religious-studies majors, it was 9.5%; and for history majors, it was also 9.5%, according to a report this month by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute that used data from 2010 and 2011.

By comparison, recent chemistry graduates were unemployed at a rate of just 5.8%; and elementary-education graduates were at 5%.

The situation is so serious that it has even moved the spirits of Harvard humanists. They have produced a report that offers something resembling an explanation for the problem.

The Journal summarizes:

This "is an anti-intellectual moment, and what matters to me is that we, the people in arts and humanities, find creative and affirmative ways of engaging the moment," said Diana Sorensen, Harvard's dean of Arts and Humanities. The division needs to show "what it is our work does so they don't think we're just living up in the clouds all the time."

Universities' humanities divisions and liberal-arts colleges across the nation are facing similar challenges in the wake of stepped-up global economic competition, a job market that is disproportionately rewarding graduates in the hard sciences, rising tuition and sky-high student-debt levels.

I doubt that Dean Sorenson was aware of it, but her analysis shows that she has no notion of reality.

It’s nice to blame it all on an “anti-intellectual moment” and on the usual suspects, but the fact is, the Journal notes clearly, the Humanities began to decline in the late 1960s and suffered it steepest fall in the 1970s.


As you see, the decline reversed itself in the mid-1980s, only to resume slightly over the past few years.

Forget the blather about an “anti-intellectual moment.” Reality suggests that the Vietnam Era counterculture killed the Humanities. Or better, humanists themselves are to blame for transforming their fields into instruments of cultural revolution. On many college campuses today, if you want to study the Humanities, you can't. They are no longer being taught.

In fact, the situation is so bad that the Harvard report has even noticed that, maybe, just maybe the use of Humanities courses to indoctrinate students in politically correct ideas has something to do with the fact that fewer students want to major in the Humanities.

The Harvard report says:

Those of us committed to criticism and critique might recognize a kernel of truth in conservative fears about the left-leaning academy…. Among the ways we sometimes alienate students from the humanities is the impression they get that some ideas are unspeakable in our classroom.

Who knew?

Not to be too critical, but, if you are writing a report about the Humanities you should at least demonstrate your ability to write a coherent sentence in English. Take a second look at that last quoted sentence. The syntax is garbled and the sentence structure is so bad it’s an embarrassment.

If Humanists do not know how to write a sentence in English, why would they expect anyone to take their courses in language and literature?


Sam L. said...

It's not quite dead, though I do believe they cut out it's heart.

Bobbye said...

Humanities are a back-door study of history, but with values. That is the problem, which all Magistrates of the Universities understand. Progressives can never allow 'old' values to be taught. That wouldn't be Progressive!

Lastango said...

I read that report from Georgetown, and consider it a sham. First, when reciting unemployment stats it doesn't appear to say anything about which grads are working in their fields of study. Second, it defines "recent grad" as up to age 26, which feels like an effort to construct a category that hides reality.

To my eye, it reads like a piece of advertising for the powerful university industry, perhaps as a response to a spate of very bad news. I'm reading more and more about the threats to that group, particularly from online education and from new discussion about adopting the Nordic technical school model. Students are figuring out the bricks-and-mortar college system doesn't deliver value, and hasn't for a long time.

It's worth being aware that the Georgetown report was sponsored by the Lumina Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.

The statist/socialist proclivities of the Gates foundation are well-known.

Lumina declares that "Lumina is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans who have high-quality, college-level learning. Our mission is defined by a specific goal: to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality college degrees, certificates and credentials to 60 percent by 2025." -- which sounds not only like the very last thing the nation needs, but also like advocacy for growth of the vast federal slush of debt guarantees that has allowed the US college megaplex to enrich itself while becoming a political power-player. (Note there's little difference in tone between that program and the federally-backed, minority-favoring toxic mortgage program that transferred undreamed-of wealth to Wall Street.)

And the Joyce Foundation? I'm not going to bother summing up... just go to the link and skim, and it will be instantly apparent what they do:

One other thing, when we're talking about humanities degrees. When making historical comparisons of the quantity of liberal arts degrees awarded relative to other degrees, it's worth keeping the costs in mind. Someone getting a liberal arts degree today from my undergrad school would have somewhere around $250-300k worth of room and board in it by the time they're done.

Further, two established educational pathways for these grads leading to decent paychecks -- law and business -- are crumbling. The legal profession has been in wholesale, accelerating collapse for several years, while an MBA from anywhere but a top school has become significantly devalued. That doesn't leave many avenues for paying down massive debt.

(Footnote: I expect that, one of these days, we will see the first of a series of steps that amount to a bailout, transferring tuition debt to the taxpayers.)

Anonymous said...

I agree the problem with higher education and employment is with the financial system. In capitalism all activity must be financed either from current wages or an increase in debt. The creditor families feel "richer" if the debtor families go further into debt but the economy does not support every contract for future cash flow obligations as with the student loan industry.

Democrats have the teacher's union and public pension scheme as a lobby group. Republicans have the banks and financial industry a lobby group. Both sides have vested financial interests which are adverse to young people since the young lack: (A) savings; (B) income; (C) knowledge; and (D) experience of how politics and the economy actually work.

Read a few bankruptcy cases on student loan debt and you will see how student borrowers are regarded as scapegoats for a political game.

Memphis said...

The last humanities course I remember taking required me to give a speech arguing that we have a massive hunger problem in America. The possibility that we don't was not even permitted for consideration and it was made clear that anyone who tried to argue against the beliefs of our lesbian Jewish Marxist feminist professor would receive an 'F' as a grade. So I made a speech that supported her anti-American views, even as it contradicted all the research and evidence I had done to write it up, and then I made up all my sources in order to satisfy her requirement that we have research and 10 sources of information. She didn't care that they were made up. She didn't even check. She cared only that I agreed with her hatred of America and capitalism and Christianity and white males.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6/6/13 @2:32 PM:
I would recommend you check your sources on the banks and the Republicans. Investment bankers are in the tank for Obama big time.

Memphis Steve:
Sounds correct and true to character. The seething anger is so self-destructive.