On the decline of the humanities: “Is Majoring in English Worth It?” | WSJ

The humanities have been infected by political correctness and ‘repressive tolerance.’ It’s no surprise that the English major is in decline, writes William McGurn.

Source: Is Majoring in English Worth It? – WSJ

In which American colleges and universities shoot themselves in the foot by misunderstanding the “liberal” in “liberal arts” (Latin ars liberalis) as a political stance, and not “those arts proper to a free person”:

“No one is surprised to learn that STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) out-earn English majors. After all, the purpose of what used to be called a ‘liberal education’ has never been about a high-paying career. Even so, Jonathan Pidluzny, director of academic affairs for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), notes that employers nevertheless prize the critical thinking, communication skills and judgment cultivated by a liberal-arts education.”

Or used to be:

“The English major was once a guarantor of effective, formal writing skills and the ability to comprehend and analyze the complex thoughts found within centuries of brilliant and challenging poetry and prose,” Pidluzny told Campus Reform. “Its decline into the epiphenomena of popular culture and identity politics is a self-inflicted wound that has rocked its credibility.”

I have long argued that what created the traditional pattern in which people with degrees in higher education made a greater income than those whose education consisted of high school or trade school was that the kind of people who were willing to undertake, and more importantly, succeed at, a rigorous academic curriculum – in which the above-mentioned skills were key – were rare, and understandably valued.

With an increasing number of people being, in effect, shoved through the doors of the Halls of Academe, that is no longer the case. The market is glutted with college and university graduates, which is why – as I have discussed elsewhere – degree inflation is such a thing: one now needs a bachelor’s degree to do what one used to be able to do with an associate’s, or even a high school diploma; a master’s degree to do what one used to do with a B.A. or B.S., and a doctorate to do things for which a master’s degree used to qualify a person.

And there are many, many holders of doctorates floating around, in many cases as “wild geese”: holding adjunct professorships at several institutions, enjoying tenure at none, having meaningful career prospects at none, and with little in the way of salary or benefits. It is one of the reasons that I stopped with a Masters of Theological Studies: I felt (correctly, as it turned out) that I had spent enough time and money on a course that had no guarantee, and few enough prospects, of advancement, or even permanency.

So liberal arts majors – and graduates – are a dime a dozen, these days, despite a continuing trend of shrinking enrollment in humanities disciplines.

But as McGurn’s essay makes clear, that is only part of the story. The other is the fact that the rigorous academic curriculum itself is increasingly a thing of the past. In part, this is to accommodate the lower caliber of student who is coming into the college or university, under the “you’ve got to get your degree to succeed” mentality: many of these folks simply lack the intellectual aptitude, temperament, or both, for academic study. But colleges and universities don’t want to get a reputation for flunking students, lest overall enrollment decline… and so we have a general dumbing-down of the curriculum.

But the piece of the puzzle which has, until recently, flown somewhat under the radar is the effect on curriculum of the increasing politicization – and Left-wing politicization, specifically – of colleges, universities, and their curricula. I have seen that in my own fields, medieval studies and theology, in which the rigorous treatment of significant historical trends, major and influential figures, and key ideas have been replaced with gender studies, LGBT studies, and an emphasis on a variety of other “marginalized” and “under-represented” populations (ignoring the fact that they may, just possibly, have been “under-represented” in traditional scholarship for good reason).

And now it is even worse – far worse! – than it was when I was in undergrad and graduate studies, with students throwing temper tantrums if anyone dares expose them to ideas that challenge their own (shouting down and in some cases even attacking the persons in question), demanding “safe spaces,” and even claiming that English literature is too white, among other charming behaviors. Sadly, as the linked essay notes, “what’s on offer today isn’t your father’s English degree. It goes on to report that

“An ACTA study of English programs reports that 48 of 52 top schools (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) allow English majors to graduate without ever having taken a course on Shakespeare. In the past ACTA has also highlighted studies showing that the average grad, even those from prestigious flagship universities, shows little or no improvement in critical thinking for having gone to college.”

McGurn’s essay continues,

“Here the much-maligned English degree is simply a proxy for what is wrong with college today. It isn’t that STEM subjects are the only majors worth anything. It’s that the humanities have disproportionately been infected by political correctness and the malignant influence of Herbert Marcuse, father of the ‘repressive tolerance‘ so prevalent on campuses these days…

and inquires,

“So why have the sciences kept their integrity while the humanities haven’t? Mr. Pidluzny suggests it’s because the costs of a dumbed-down STEM degree can be both more obvious and more consequential.

“’The university can’t get away with not teaching engineering students differential equations because we’d then have collapsing bridges all over the place,” [Pidluzny] says.

“’But for an English major who studies Harry Potter instead of Chaucer, or spends his time on gender theory instead of reading great literature, the costs aren’t as obvious – except to the graduate who only later realizes he never developed the keen analytical mind and precise style of writing college was supposed to cultivate.’”

And of course, to society at large, who gains a professional activist, but loses a cultivated, discerning, and inquiring mind. Or to put it a little more bluntly, gains a “snowflake,” but loses a productive citizen; and in many cases, gains a source of disruption, but loses a source of stability.

Tradition is the passing down of customs, beliefs, but also knowledge and information, from one generation to the next. A liberal arts education – and the colleges and universities, originating in the Middle Ages but based on classical antecedents, which provided it – has been a primary means for passing the down the traditions of Western civilization from one generation to another, for the last thousand years.

I have commented more than once in this forum (and elsewhere) that just as a tree which is separated from its roots withers and dies, the same is true of a culture, a society, or a people. The disruption and practical destruction of the collegiate and university liberal arts tradition, and its replacement by a politically-corrected, culturally Marxist, identity-and-entitlement sandbox in which squalling children throw ideological tantrums is extremely disheartening, and blow after hacking axe-blow at the roots of our Western culture and civilization.

But it can happen, on rare occasions, that a tree which has been felled, or blown over in a gale, falls in such a way that its branches thrust into fertile ground, and themselves take root. There are glimmers of hope in this regard, from the growing number of classical Christian academies and homeschool programs, to a handful of institutions of higher learning such as Hillsdale College (nonsectarian Christian) or Magdalen College of Liberal Arts (Roman Catholic). I pray that such a near-miracle may occur for us, because frankly, without it, our future looks rather bleak!

The Demon in Middlebury by ​Ryszard Legutko | Articles | First Things

https://d2ipgh48lxx565.cloudfront.net/uploads/article_5d24d86da76c2.jpg?Expires=1565357763&Signature=csYxGz-~jLS1q7oJ-pxNdmM6sTwBKQCZM8qROcUiZdtEMTlsiwjBt-KUvkcUhsHI8K0ev7g8rZhG5JiuPYZSPHB1bMdymyx~wRe6LAkwwmVX-sK1CbF2VTX46m8zxKzxwzbxqJnrsiys84H1~7udcW6jBkphPJLcq99b7TIX7C4uQVsvmH9uEySPq7VYVva81GdamoF8HUcVUjQXxyuBbGqZ957ngRXnUfVOLmsyNlTehUnnoy~S1pSbWQkv8cuZ4U0-MatbXAhE49BcU3Mlpv4lT~d2DvlZ2DS-sLgmB2oWqTbvAeFW0KsJMj3p~1zsQcigXh8ybJqrtFFo~vqJZg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIN7SVXNLPAOVDKZQ

The invitation from Middlebury College to speak about my book The Demon in Democracy came last year. I was pleased to receive it…

Source: The Demon in Middlebury by ​Ryszard Legutko | Articles | First Things

This just isn’t funny anymore, if it ever was.

I used to like Middlebury College; heck, I used to want to go there, or teach there, or both. I like Vermont. I like the town of Middlebury. I especially like the “secret” recipe for a maple syrup vinaigrette that I got from someone there, during my brief stint teaching outdoor education nearby! But I do not like what Middlebury College has become.

This is from Ryszard Legutko, author of the book The Demon in Democracy, which I referenced in a previous post, but have not yet had the chance to read. Now I want to, all the more! Because there is a demon lurking at the heart of liberal democracy, one whose existence is unsuspected by many, studiously ignored by others, and actively fed and worshiped by some. And I am not sure that I am using that term entirely metaphorically!

At any rate, Legutko comments, inter alia, on the socialist-fascist-cultural Marxist mess our academic world has become; and he does so using Middlebury as his personal example, since the college soviet unloaded on him, there. I will let you read his account of the incident in question! But he follows that account with this analysis:

“By comparing the clichés with the realities they supposedly describe, we find that the aim of this language is to reverse the meanings of words. ‘Marginalized people’ are not people who are marginalized, but people who set the college’s agenda and can get away with just about anything, including physically assaulting their professors. ‘Respectful and non-disruptive counter-space’ means subjecting a lecturer to insults and humiliations. ‘Inclusivity’ is the systemic censuring of people and ideas. I don’t know what ‘healing’ is supposed to mean, but I suspect it might refer to the joy a hooligan feels in his acts of vandalism.”

This is precisely the sort of warping of language Orwell tried to warn us about! Newspeak, the memory hole, some animals are more equal than others… but I digress:

“Am I exaggerating? Am I unjust to the students and their faculty mentors, people who may be misguided but are sincere in their desire for a better world? Let us see what their better world would look like. Here is one of the demands that the SGA (Student Government Association) at Middlebury made after the incident:

Any organization or academic department that invites a speaker to campus will be required to fill out a due diligence form created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee. These questions should be created to determine whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards [emphasis added by The Anglophilic Anglican], removing the burden of researching speakers from the student body.

“I learned from this statement that Middlebury has two offices (at least) to monitor diversity, equity, and inclusion at the college. Student activists seem to find it an undue burden to have to do the work of policing invited speakers. They insist that the institution do their bidding. And Middlebury is not an anomaly. Similar bodies are everywhere, at every college, university, and corporation in the U.S. and many European countries, all of them surveilling the words and actions of their members and implementing ideological directives with bureaucratic ruthlessness.”

So, only speakers whose “beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards” (thank you, Facebook, or as some now call it, Fascistbook) will be allowed on campus? Or if others somehow manage to be permitted, they can expect to experience protest, heckling, or worse? All in the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Alles klar, Herr Kommisar?

How is this not Communist? Marxist? Fascist? Totalitarian? Did we live through the 20th century, defeating both the Nazis in the Second World War and the Soviets in the Cold War, in vain? Did my father fight and earn the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the first, and defend our country via signals intelligence in the second, in vain? I begin to fear so, to my deep dismay!

Bear in mind, Legutko is a person who grew up in Communist Poland, having been born there in 1949. He is Professor of philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, specializing in ancient philosophy and political theory, and a Member of the European Parliament. He knows whereof he speaks, when it comes to totalitarianism and dictatorship: historically, philosophically, and personally. He continues,

“The growing power of these offices would not be possible without the corruption of language. Diversity, equity, and inclusion have ceased to mean what they always meant and now mean the opposite. They now mean rigidity, dogmatism, conformity, intimidation, control, arbitrariness, and censorship. The offices of diversity, equity, and inclusion are in fact guardians of the regnant ­ideology — ‘Middlebury’s community standards’ — and their job is to censure all ‘beliefs’ that do not ‘align; with those standards. In ­Orwell’s world, war was peace, freedom slavery, and ignorance strength. At Middlebury, diversity is monopoly, equity bias, and inclusion censorship.”

So now we have student soviets, sitting in judgement on both their professors (most of whom are cultural Marxists themselves, anyway, and most of the few who aren’t, are – understandably, it must be confessed – interested in protecting their jobs, their incomes, and their families’ futures), and on anyone who might be invited to speak to them?

What can we call these, other than academic soviets? How did we allow colleges and universities to become neo-bolshevik? What happened to academic freedom, to freedom of inquiry? What happened to a challenging intellectual environment (for anyone other than conservatives and traditionalists, who are to be actively ghettoed)?

I knew the situation was bad, and getting worse. I knew it was already heading in that direction when I was last directly involved with the academic world, in the mid-1990s; and I knew it had only tanked still further since. But I have to admit, even I did not know it was this bad. Heaven help us.

The only bright spot is Legutko’s concluding paragraph. I am tempted to reproduce it here, but I shall refrain: better you should read the whole article!

 

US declining interest in history presents risk to democracy | Financial Times

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Alas, America’s curiosity about itself is suffering a prolonged bear market. What may work for individual careers poses a collective risk to US democracy.

Source: US declining interest in history presents risk to democracy | Financial Times

More on the plummeting U.S. interest in history, and its consequences. Unfortunately, the author, Edward Luce, has to get in a dig at President Trump! But he makes a number of good points, nonetheless.

Indeed, the idea that a de-emphasis on history (and other humanities) in favor of more technical fields “works for individual careers” may itself be a flawed assumption: the author himself notes that

“the biggest culprit is the widespread belief that ‘soft skills’ — such as philosophy and English, which are both in similar decline to history — do not lead to well-paid jobs. But the data do not bear this out. Engineers do better than those who study humanities. But the latter are paid roughly the same as those who graduate in the booming fields of biology and business services.”

But there is a greater cost to society generated by the near-demise of the humanities than simply missed employment opportunities. Luce goes on to comment,

“The demise of strong civics coincides with waning voter turnout, a decline in joining associations, fewer citizen’s initiatives, and other qualities once associated with American vigour. The spread of fake news is often blamed solely on social media… But the ultimate driver is the citizens who believe it.

“There is no scientific metric for gullibility. Nor can we quantitatively prove that civic ignorance imposes a political cost on society. These are questions of judgment. But if America’s origins tell us anything it is that a well-informed citizenry creates a stronger society.”

Indeed! And the reverse, sadly, is also true.

 

Sir Roger Scruton: on being an intellectual conservative | YouTube (with reflections by me, on politics, economics, and society)

Image result for sir roger scruton

Source: Sir Roger Scruton: How to Be a Conservative | YouTube

“It is not unusual to be a conservative. But it is unusual to be an intellectual conservative. In both Britain and America some 70% of academics identify themselves as being ‘on the Left,’ while the surrounding culture is increasingly hostile to traditional values, or to any claim that might be made for the high achievements of Western Civilization.”

— Sir Roger Scruton

And like it or not, the academic world does have a major impact – directly, through the pronouncements of academics, and even more significant, indirectly, through its graduates (who end up in business, media, and politics) – on the wider culture.

The “Benedict Option” (or what Sir Roger here calls “catacomb culture”) is valid and likely essential as a short-term strategy for survival of traditional values, ideas, and ideals (and perhaps, for traditional people who wish to bear and raise children in those values, ideas, and ideals), but it is not an end in itself.

Remember that the monks of medieval Europe did not merely remain in their monasteries, but in some cases actively evangelized (think the Celtic monks, Franciscan friars, and the preaching orders), or in the case of the Benedictines themselves, served as “leaven in the loaf” of the wider culture.

It’s not enough merely to “opt out” of secular culture – although, as I say, that can be an important first step, and survival strategy, just as the monks made the decision to leave their secular lives and enter the monastery. We have to keep the longer-term goal in mind: taking it back. Continue reading “Sir Roger Scruton: on being an intellectual conservative | YouTube (with reflections by me, on politics, economics, and society)”

Freedom of speech is not “systemic violence” – a fact that used to be self-evident

I apologize for not having posted much lately. It’s been a long week – or more – at work. In any case:

It is most refreshing to see an intelligent commentator calling out a Leftist “professor” (the quotes are because what she “professes” is, as Michael Knowles points out, quite distressing for a professor in a taxpayer-funded institution of higher learning) on the absurdity of equating speech – the free exchange of ideas – with violence.

Well said, sir!

 

How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette

“I am a Classics Ph.D. who recently attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS—formerly the American Philological Association), a yearly conference that provides papers on classical subjects and interviews for academic positions. I now regret doing so since some remarks I made at the conference led to me being branded a ‘racist’ and the loss of my editing job with the Association of Ancient Historians.”

Source: How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette

This essay is not easy reading. In fact, I found it both depressing and disillusioning (not that I had many illusions, to start with) and deeply angering. It is a classic example of the cultural Marxism prevalent in the academic world, and one of the reasons I did not choose to go on and obtain a PhD in Medieval History, as had been my original intention, since I saw the same trends developing in medieval studies, all the way back in the mid-’90s.

In this essay, Mary Frances Williams – note, this is a woman, not one of those dastardly males! – who describes herself as an independent scholar living in California, having received her doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin, recounts the way in which she was harassed, bullied, mischaracterized, and denied the right to have her voice heard in defense of Classics as a discipline… at a Classics conference (!), and purportedly, one devoted to the future of classics. Dr. Williams notes that

“Of all the academic disciplines, Classics alone has managed until now to withstand most of the corrupting influences of modern critical theory and ‘social justice’ activism. Ours is the last bastion of Western Civilization in the academy.”

Or at least, has been. Continue reading “How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette”

College Illiteracy is Growing | Intellectual Takeout

College Illiteracy is Growing

For a number of years, it was assumed that public education was swimming along, efficiently educating children of all ages. More recently, the products coming out of public schools have caused a troubling concern to leap into the minds of adults: are schools dumbing down the content they teach to students?

Source: College Illiteracy is Growing | Intellectual Takeout

I have been observing this trend for years, now, from both inside and outside public schools and academia. The author, Annie Holmquist, writes,

“One could cast blame in many directions to attempt to explain why students are not intellectually prepared for college. But is it possible that the main reason stems from the fact that schools are simply not set up to train students to think for themselves?”

A good question. And one to which I suspect I know the answer…

I would also add, society is teaching students that they ought to be able to get anything they want without much effort, intellectual or otherwise!