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!

Students’ attitudes really… *ahem!* …take the cake.

Many or most of my readers may know that a recent Supreme Court decision held that a Christian baker was within his rights to refuse to bake a special cake for a gay wedding. For that he was roundly criticized, some would say harassed, by the party in question. They brought suit, and the case eventually made it to the SCOTUS – which, to the surprise of most observers, found in favor of the defendant.

While their ruling has been criticized by some conservatives for being too narrow, it at least went some way toward upholding the principle that merely because one offers a service to the public, one is not thereby obliged to completely chuck one’s moral standards and religious beliefs into the gutter. (To put a slightly finer point on it, service does not equate to slavery.)

The baker made it clear that he would happily have sold the couple a pre-existing cake; he is, after all, in the business of selling cakes, and has no desire to actively discriminate. However, by demanding that he make one specifically for their occasion, they were forcing him to actively participate in it, demonstrating de facto approval of their actions, and that is what he objected to. The Supreme Court, to their credit, agreed.

Now, I am a bit more extreme in my views, in that I believe a private business owner has the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, or no reason – with the understanding, of course, that this is likely to have an impact on his or her business, and if that impact is negative (people “vote with their wallet”), he or she has no right to complain. So from that perspective, yes, I agree that it was too narrow a ruling.

But, it is head-and-shoulders above the situation we have had up to this point, which is that basically anyone can be forced to do anything for anyone, if it is in line with their business, and the business owner has no choice in the matter, regardless of their moral qualms. So it is at least a significant step in the right direction!

What causes me to shake my head (in dismay though not, alas, in surprise) is the reactions of the college students interviewed, which demonstrate with all-too-crystalline clarity the extent of the socio-political indoctrination inflicted on our young people by the academic establishment – public school and higher education alike – as well as the lack of critical-thinking skills inculcated by these institutions.

They are emphatic and unanimous that the SCOTUS decision was wrong, that people’s “right” to “be who they are” trumps a business owner’s right to follow his or her own moral and religious standards – even to the point of being forced to do something that is directly against them. But they start to waffle when the parameters are shifted!

Well, what if it’s a black baker, being forced to bake a cake for a KKK rally? They backed off of that one in a hurry, although struggling (and failing) to find some sort of coherent justification for the switch: even admitting, in a couple of instances, that they had contradicted themselves.

What if it’s a Jewish baker, being asked to bake a cake for a Palestinian event (presumably of a “free Palestine” – and thus, anti-Israel – nature)? More waffling. A lot more, in this case, as they are presumably conflicted over which side is “in the right,” here!

But the point is that the argument that someone’s right / freedom to “be who they are” trumps a business owner’s right to be who he or she is, in following their religious and moral standards – even to the point of forcing that person to transgress their religious and moral beliefs – collapses completely, when it’s not some nasty reactionary Christian oppressing some poor, oppressed, “freedom”-loving progressive type.

As my mother used to say, “it all depends on whose ox is getting gored.” And as I have said more than once in various fora, irony and double-standards are endemic among today’s Leftists, and logic, coherence, and rationality appear to be in short supply!

‘The Great Shame of Our Profession’ | The Chronicle of Higher Education

How the humanities survive on exploitation.

Source: ‘The Great Shame of Our Profession’ – The Chronicle of Higher Education

I am not, generally, a big fan of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and I have soured significantly on “the academy” – as it is now constructed and run, not as it once was and has the potential to be again – in recent years and decades. The linked article is a good explication of why. Here is just one brief excerpt:

“The abysmal conditions of adjuncts are not the inevitable byproducts of an economy with limited space for literature. They are intentional. Universities rely upon a revolving door of new Ph.D.s who work temporarily for unsustainable wages before giving up and being replaced by next year’s surplus doctorates. Adjuncts now do most university teaching and grading at a fraction of the price, so that the ladder faculty have the time and resources to write. We take the love that young people have for literature and use it to support the research of a tiny elite.”

As much as I love writing, and as much as I respect those who write well and on worthwhile subjects, when I was dreaming of becoming a professor, I did not want to write, primarily and as a major end of my professorship: I wanted to teach. I wanted to share such knowledge as I had, by God’s grace, managed to acquire with young (mostly) people who were hungry for it, in some cases whether they knew it or not. The old saw, “publish or perish,” stuck in my craw, as I knew that would take time and energy away from actually teaching – actually professing, the theoretical job of a professor (a.k.a. “teacher of the love of wisdom,” philosophiae doctor, the meaning of Ph.D.).

Clearly, the situation has not improved in the decades since the mid-1990s, when I pretty much laid that dream to rest. “Adjuncts now do most university teaching and grading at a fraction of the price, so that the ladder faculty have the time and resources to write.” That pretty much says it all. Don’t get me wrong, I (of all people) am not knocking writing, per se! But when it takes so much time away from actual teaching that the only way to maintain the educational function of an institution of higher learning is to hire underpaid, easily-fired adjuncts to do the “dirty work” of actually teaching – because the “ladder faculty” are so busy writing they don’t have time to actually interact with students – something is badly wrong.

The problem is not limited to higher education, of course; non-profits, and even county- and state-funded agencies, rely on low-paid or non-paid interns, volunteers, or seasonals to do the majority of their work. I have written before of the bitter irony that volunteers are considered to be “worth” $24.14/hour (as of 2016), based on their value to the organization, according to Independent Sector – while those same organizations pay their part-times and seasonals (which describes just about everyone except the director) $9 or $11 an hour. The situation clearly is not much improved if you’ve spent years of your life and many thousands of dollars getting a doctorate. That is appalling.

The writer of this article is a literary critic, but the same is true throughout the humanities. He goes on to add, “This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent.”

That is indeed – or should be – a source of great shame. Surely we can do better. Surely we must!

Largest Christian university opens ‘sophisticated’ gun range for students | Fox News

The Liberty University shooting team holds their first competition vs. James Madison University on at the new Liberty Mountain Gun Club on February 3, 2018.

Liberty University does it right: “As schools nationwide debate on how to keep firearms away from their campus, Liberty University opened a multimillion-dollar gun range Monday for student activities and hosting competitions.”

Source: Largest Christian university opens ‘sophisticated’ gun range for students | Fox News

As I have commented elsewhere, the best way to deal with gun violence is precisely to train citizens, from childhood and youth on up, in the safe, legal, and responsible handling of firearms. It might be worth considering the wisdom of the Scriptures, here:

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

The passage – found in Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) – is referring specifically to religious and moral training, of course, but it applies quite well in this case (particularly since decisions on how and when to use firearms are, in fact, moral decisions).

The lure of the forbidden, combined with the very negative and irresponsible examples of firearms use portrayed in the media (including movies and video games), makes it all the more important to provide youth and young adults with appropriate training and role models to counter the pernicious influences of a culture which has, in may respects, lost its way.

[It’s a bit of an aside to this, but I do find it interesting that many if not most of the celebrities – actors and musicians – who are most vociferous in their opposition to firearms would probably be indignant or worse at the idea that we should tone down those elements of, say, rap “music,” video games, or movies that glamorize the amoral or immoral portrayal of firearms violence by “heroes” and anti-heroes.]

Liberty U. is certainly going about this in a big way:

“The lower part of the 600-acre, state-of-the-art gun range has rifle, pistol, and three-gun ranges in a valley located on the other side of Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, a year-round ski and snowboard slope, and at the top has shotgun venues, which include skeet, trap and sporting clay facilities…

“Liberty is now the only campus with a venue fit for all Olympic shooting sports and it hopes to be one of the most luxurious facilities in the world once the project is fully completed.”

Brad Butler, planning coordinator for the University, quotes current university president Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his father, founder Jerry Falwell, Sr., as considering it axiomatic that “if it’s Christian, it ought to be better.” In this, I am reminded of my mother’s saying that we should strive to “put our best foot forward” in all that we do.

So kudos to Liberty Christian University for its stance, and its accomplishment with this! They’re doing it right.

Psychologist on the Breakdown of Discourse: ‘I’m a Liberal Professor and My Liberal Students Scare Me’ | Intellectual Takeout

“People born after 1980 are much more likely to be in a state of moral dependency,” he said. “If somebody has done something to me, I won’t deal with it myself. I will get an adult authority, a bureaucratic authority, a diversity a department, something to punish the person who did this to me.”

Source: Psychologist on the Breakdown of Discourse: ‘I’m a Liberal Professor and My Liberal Students Scare Me’ | Intellectual Takeout

“American campuses are now overwhelmingly made up of students born after 1980, many of whom are incapable resolving conflict on their own.

“The result?

“A process Haidt calls erasure, in which universities and educators strip away anything that could possibly be construed as unsettling or offensive. Eventually, ideological conformity (on campuses that implies progressivism) replaces original thought.

“’This makes it impossible to teach. This makes it impossible to have an intellectual community,’ he said. ‘I’m a liberal Professor and my liberal students scare me.’”

I saw the beginnings of this in the late ’80s and, especially, mid-’90s, in my own undergraduate and graduate institutions – the latter in particular. The speed and intensity at which the process has proceeded is indeed frightening. The result is a dumbing-down of students and graduates of our mainstream academic institutions – both in terms of knowledge itself, and the process of learning. And the implications of that are indeed frightening.

I will never forget one of my favorite undergrad professors, a man both liberal and progressive, assert that the primary purpose of a college education is to develop a “good crap detector.” Students today do not, by and large, have good crap detectors. They have ideologies, and fear and hatred for anything outside of them. This is not the way you get productive and intelligent public discourse! It is also not the way you develop intelligent and productive citizens, post-academia.

Just one of many reasons I fear for our future.