I should be nattering about tonight’s time change, but that can wait. Instead, I want to bemoan as article [Link] I found earlier entitled “There Is No Case for the Humanities.” The journal cited is suspect for the Amerikan high “education” instrumentality has been steadily selling out to corporate oligarchs since the end of the Great Patriotic War. The author, however, is Oxfordian and thus enjoys the suspension of disbelief that attaches to anyone with an upper class English accent. He begins his article with:
“The humanities are not just dying — they are almost dead. In Scotland, the ancient Chairs in Humanity (which is to say, Latin) have almost disappeared in the past few decades: abolished, left vacant, or merged into chairs of classics. The University of Oxford has revised its famed Literae Humaniores course, “Greats,” into something resembling a technical classics degree. Both of those were throwbacks to an era in which Latin played the central, organizing role in the humanities.”
And as a matter of clarification, I also cite:
“The seven liberal arts had a wide mandate covering most of what we consider the humanities, as well as mathematics in all its branches and the physical and natural sciences.”
So much of my personal problem is the unity, not the components.
When I was an undergraduate in the 1960’s, the largest “college” of the university, the campus of the Black Warrior was Liberal Arts and Sciences, already a progression (digression?) from the “liberal arts.” While departments had considerable leeway to define what comprised a major/minor in that discipline, the college mandated a broadening that basically consisted of four terms of “arts” coursework and a similar amount of “sciences and maths” coursework. In many instances these collegiate requirements doomed many women to early marriages and men to early deaths. (The Vietnam “Conflict” was engulfing every male student who lagged in his grades;” the women were victims of parents who saw little reason for female children to be educated.) I have lost count (as well as memory of names) of all the students that I tried to tutor in basic chemistry and algebra to the level they should have attained in high schule.
I will admit that I did well in the sciences and maths but hated the “liberal arts” and barely squeaked through the minimal requirements with gentlemanly (sic) grades (in the mean) of B. Frankly, I found the material uninteresting, the lecturers, non professors and mostly graduate students, unengaging. Staying awake was the first, oft failed, challenge, at least to me. But then I was the guy who fell asleep in one of Fred Brown’s solid state physics lectures and got festively dumped in the semi-frozen Boneyard Creek. That however was the result of chemical tranquilizers and not verbal ones. Newton save us from the crackling tones of self-anointed thespians reading Shakespeare aloud in lieu of a substantive lecture.
But the strongest condemnation goes to the “English” department which failed in the combination of high schule and undergraduate schule to teach me composition. So I attained middling grades and no useful skills. I had to learn composition in laboratory science courses and by simple mistakes in writing nerd manuscripts for publication.
So as far as I am concerned “liberal arts” education in the 1960s was already an abysmal failure. And I will argue that is exactly what it is because that is the critical part of what syntax and literature is supposed to educate.
Some of this can be forgiven. Education in Amerika has been failing since before the Revolution. The great land grant universities were founded to teach useful skills, like agriculture and civil engineering and accounting, which are not liberal arts nor sciences. The death knell of American colleges arrived after the Great Patriotic War with the GI Bill. In the last couple of decades, the factory diploma mill has become the cancer of all but the original endowed colleges. Today education is irrelevant; career channeling is the only metric.
Even this is not all bad. A scant few, who I still admire regardless, enjoy reading “literature” in whichever language. If they chose a classical education that avails them naught in the workplace but enriches their otherwise lifespan, then so be it. If one cannot have fun in life, no amount of money makes happiness. But for most of us, we want to study what interests us, not what interests ancient academics, and have an existence productive and enjoyable enough to continue that interest and enjoyment.
Does that justify a liberal arts curriculum? Yes. Should it be imposed on all? No. But in an environment where STEM departments are at once richly employable and remunerative and simultaneously so close to being too small to be fiscally viable and under dire threat of erasure, nothing makes sense any more. A factory school will, like most organizations, specialize itself into oblivion,
And probably take the nation and civilization along with it.
Once more, glad to be ORF. And not in college.