February 25, 2009

"Although people in humanities have always lamented the state of the field..."

"... they have never felt quite as much of a panic that their field is becoming irrelevant."

38 comments:

Bob R said...

Sometimes I think that universities would be well served to shut down the teaching of the humanities for a few generations. The dominant fashions in these disciplines are toxic. The political uniformity of the faculties in these areas is only one good piece of evidence that the primary purpose of teaching them is to encourage social conformity, not critical thinking. (Unless critical thinking means criticizing other social classes.) The teaching of the liberal arts has been a beautiful and useful thing in the past. A fifty year moratorium on the practice would not prevent it from being so in the future.

The Drill SGT said...

what Bob said.

There are too many courses in cultural studies and the rest of the field is dominated by professors that are teaching political or cultural viewpoints rather than the subject at hand.

Pogo said...

Now that the Utopia of American socialism is at hand, their work is done.

They should stop the propaganda phase, and begin to organize a police system to ferret out unbelievers, capitalist roaders, corporate fatcats, and kulaks. Their task has changed.

Tibore said...

Becoming?

Bird rock said...

If humanities departments still taught critical thinking, if they exposed students to the best of literature, philosophy and the arts, then perhaps they wouldn't be irrelevant and feel so threatened. Those things will always be of great value. But for years the emphasis in humanities has been on extreme expressions of left-wing ideology and victimology and increasingly absurd avenues of post-modernism. Humanities departments have effectively already been shut down from within. And that's a real tragedy and comes at a cost to our civilization.

While there will always be students willing to sign up for the gender-race-pomo trend du jour types of classes we may have finally reached a tipping point with parents who foot the bill. With the cost of attending a private liberal arts college or university reaching over $50K a year parents may have finally said enough. And that's a good thing.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Er...what? We have vastly more art majors than engineers these days. Isn't this just another cry for attention and "help" (MONEY!)?

Great White Father George said...

Says Forbes:

"Put $160,000--the approximate cost of a Harvard education--into municipal bonds that pay a conservative 5%, and you'll have saved more than $500,000 in 30 years. That's far more than the average college grad will accumulate in the same amount of time."

"College grads earn an average 62% more over the course of their careers than high school grads. But economist Robert Reischauer of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., argues that those numbers are skewed by the fact that smarter kids are more likely to go to college in the first place. In other words, the profitability of higher education is a self-fulfilling prophecy."

traditionalguy said...

Thre is a value in Liberal Arts courses taught by confident and friendly teachers.Where else does an American learn European history, Roman history, Great literature that is not popular today, but still affects the way we percieve the world. It creates a common culture that is more than the Internet can do. Let's fire the communists and their fellow traveler De-constructionists and enjoy our heritage.

John said...

"Thre is a value in Liberal Arts courses taught by confident and friendly teachers.Where else does an American learn European history, Roman history, Great literature that is not popular today, but still affects the way we percieve the world. It creates a common culture that is more than the Internet can do."

Absolutely there is. When they stopped doing that, people stopped taking thier courses. To understand a tradition, you have to love it and take it at its own terms. Once the very people who are supposed to love the Western Tradition started hating it, the ceased to understand it or be able to impart any wisdom in their students. Everyone knows they teach BS and students make the entirely rational choice and avoid them.

MadisonMan said...

If they stop teaching (for example) Religious Studies, where will the Religious Studies Professors of the future come from? They'd have to hire them from the Religious side of the world. I don't think PhD-holders on a University faculty will countenance a non-PhD-holder with the same rank.

Humanities have done a horrible job of showing their relevance. Too little too late now, I'm thinking. Now they can whine that they are victims.

Pogo said...

Now they can whine that they are victims.

Sounds like a plan for a humanities course, maybe even a major.

MadisonMan said...

Sounds like a plan for a humanities course, maybe even a major.

You just know there's a PhD thesis in this topic. Maybe a couple dozen. Buy the book on Amazon in a year or two!

Pogo said...

I'm in, MM.
You do the outline, conclusion, and footnotes, I'll do the body.
We'll be rich. Whiny and rich.
=P

The Drill SGT said...

MadisonMan said...
If they stop teaching (for example) Religious Studies, where will the Religious Studies Professors of the future come from? They'd have to hire them from the Religious side of the world.


Sort of like departments of education teaching math instead of math departments.

what is wrong with having Religious studies taught by theologians out of Theology programs? lots of PhD or at least Doctors of Divinity

I think Bob's point, though it won't happen, is that there was no patriarch PhD of literature (like the Pope consecrating Bishops) from which all of the current literature PhDs can trace their lineage.

some of these disciplines are so warped and perverted from their orginal and honest function, that one ought to start over.

Michael Hasenstab said...

Cultural studies programs are very important, and America needs to fully fund them if we want to keep the best and brightest waitstaff in the world.

Tibore said...

"The study of the humanities evolved during the 20th century “to focus almost entirely on personal intellectual development,” said Richard M. Freeland, the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education. “But what we haven’t paid a lot of attention to is how students can put those abilities effectively to use in the world. We’ve created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our role as citizens and professionals.”"

There's a weird dichotomic irony there: He both nails and misses the point.

How he nails it: "We've created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our roles as citizens and professionals." Boy, is that ever true! And he even used the active voice in saying that, thus correctly illustrating that this is indeed a divergence due to what higher educational facilities have puposely done. They may not have intended to create a gulf there, but their actions have indeed led to one.

How he misses it: The point he's driving at, as stated further in the article, is to remake liberal education to be more "practical" and have more "economic value". No, he's wrong in that he's misidentifying a symptom as a cause. Higher education's divergence from what's practical and economically relevant is not the crux of the problem; it's a result of their central mistakes. Those central mistakes were to discard rigor in research, conflate amorphous argumentation with substance, and seek not to build knowledge from analysis of basics, but rather from axiom. Knowledge built from such unsound foundations is flawed, and an education based on such knowledge is similarly tainted.

Liberal arts institutions may claim they're not falling prey to that, but my response is "Like hell you're not".

The problem deriving from those mistakes is that a graduate leaves college unable to think critically and analyze properly. The lack of rigor, for example leaves a graduate unable to properly research even the most basic issues, or understand that in many cases they must deduce from original sources rather than find work directly addressing whatever current issue they're analyzing. This leaves them prey to slanted conclusions, as they readily accept predigested information - such as that from sources with agendas - and don't take the trouble to question those sources, instead treating them as basic. As an example, the number of professionals falling prey to 9/11 conspiracy theory is one such manifestation of this problem; the number of educated people falling prey to the hype about vaccines and autism is another. Both are examples of the failure of higher education to instill rigorously critical analytic abilities into graduate's skill sets.

Amorphous argumentation with knowledge: Cripes, I won't need to come up with examples of this for this crowd here. Hell, the previous ones about 9/11 and antivaccination "movements" is illustrative of this as well, and of "knowledge from axiom rather than analysis".

Anyway, the overall point is that higher liberal education poorly prepares graduates to think, let alone function. That is what accounts for the divergence from practicality and economic relevance: Graduates must be taught basic skill sets that they should already have, which is where liberal educations fail to be practical. And because they're lacking those skills, they are less attractive to employers who don't have resources to duplicate what liberal arts colleges and universities should have already done.

If a person like Freeland above concentrates on the symptom instead of the cause, he's not going to get anywhere with reforming liberal education in his state.

The Drill SGT said...

Tibore said and I fixed :)

they are less attractive to employers who don't have resources to FIX what liberal arts colleges and universities have already done.


Note that your Richard M. Freeland is part of the problem on several levels in his role of acreditor, and Education School Faculty member

Anthony said...

Perhaps the humanities have not done an adequate job of asserting their relevance, but from my experience, the poor state of the field has not come from biased professors, non-critical thinking, or lack of "good" subject matter. I graduated from college two years ago, with a liberal arts degree. While I was sure that degree wouldn't get me a job I wanted (I'm now in law school), I think the courses, professors, and strategies for getting me to think critically were invaluable.

Tibore said...

@Drill SGT: Good point!

hdhouse said...

Humanities will become irrelevant the day that we trust lawyers.

Art and literature are in short supply in this country and driven there buy feckless technocrats who are consummed by 101001 sequences, endless legal hassles and a borish world view of the merits of civilization.

There is a bunch of clods who simply have no hunch as to the role of humanities in a civilized world and then there are those who actively try and destroy what they so clearly don't understand.

PatCA said...

I agree with the other commenters: a liberal arts education is too expensive vis-a-vis its honesty, or worth; it's seen (rightly, most of the time) as indoctrination; it doesn't translate to jobs. It used to be a finishing school for elites, a scrubbing before they assumed their rank in law or government. Today it costs too much for four years to attain a "whiteness" degree. And students are not able to register for humanities courses because they are required GE courses, not because the students are particularly interested.

I do agree that these courses are a great first exposure to the ideas and events of history and culture, and critical thinking, but only a beginning.

I completely disagree with their take on Obama: "“He does something academic humanists have not been doing well in recent years,” he said of a president who invokes Shakespeare and Faulkner, Lincoln and W. E. B. Du Bois. “He makes people feel there is some kind of a common enterprise, that history, with its tragedies and travesties, belongs to all of us, that we have something in common as Americans.”

Last night Obama ignored the Iraq and Iran wars, the history of capitalism/socialism, and rocked the socks off of all his true believers with slogans. History it wasn't.

Theo Boehm said...

Parents of prospective university students of the Hunanities frequently attempt to dissuade their children from pursuing such a course. They often say, "You've got to be realistic!"

Prospective students may reply that they want to develop the tools to understand reality, and not simply be tossed about by forces they can little grasp, and lead, willy-nilly, an unexamined life.  What better way, they ask, than to examine life through the study of the Humanities?

Social Realism has been a powerful genre to provide students with narratives of contemporary life such that they may be equipped to consider and discuss life without the inconveniences of having had to have lived it.

To this end, consider that the expenditure of approximately $160,000 at a top-rank U.S. university will equip the student to understand the following sample essay on Social Realism, and, with additional support through the PhD level, to learn to write it:


Discourses of Stasis: Lyotardist Narrative and Social Realism

Theo H. W. Boehm
Department of Future Studies, University of Northern California

1. Eco and Lyotardist narrative

“Consciousness is elitist,” says Sartre; however, according to Hanfkopf[1], it is not so much consciousness that is elitist, but rather the collapse, and some would say the genre, of consciousness. However, Sontag uses the term ‘the semanticist paradigm of context’ to denote the common ground between society and class.

In the works of Eco, a predominant concept is the distinction between closing and opening. If social realism holds, we have to choose between Lyotardist narrative and subdialectic Marxism. But many constructions concerning a structural whole exist.

“Society is fundamentally responsible for outdated perceptions of sexual identity,” says Foucault. La Tournier[2] holds that we have to choose between capitalist objectivism and neodialectic narrative. In a sense, a number of desituationisms concerning the deconstructive paradigm of reality may be revealed.

If one examines subdialectic materialism, one is faced with a choice: either reject Lyotardist narrative or conclude that the law is used in the service of hierarchy. Lyotard suggests the use of Sartreist absurdity to challenge capitalism. However, the subject is contextualised into a that includes truth as a paradox.

Derrida uses the term ‘the deconstructive paradigm of reality’ to denote the rubicon, and thus the defining characteristic, of conceptualist class. But the example of social realism prevalent in Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum is also evident in The Limits of Interpretation (Advances in Semiotics), although in a more self-supporting sense.

Sontag promotes the use of the precapitalist paradigm of narrative to modify and read reality. However, Lacan uses the term ’social realism’ to denote the role of the artist as observer.

The main theme of the works of Eco is a mythopoetical totality. Therefore, if textual discourse holds, the works of Eco are not postmodern.

Hanfkopf[3] suggests that we have to choose between the deconstructive paradigm of reality and neosemioticist rationalism. In a sense, Derrida uses the term ‘Lyotardist narrative’ to denote the role of the writer as poet.

The primary theme of Scuglia’s[4] model of the deconstructive paradigm of reality is a dialectic whole. Therefore, the premise of the precultural paradigm of context holds that art is used to disempower the proletariat.

2. The deconstructive paradigm of reality and capitalist postsemantic theory

In the works of Gaiman, a predominant concept is the concept of dialectic language. If social realism holds, we have to choose between capitalist postsemantic theory and Baudrillardist hyperreality. It could be said that the main theme of the works of Gaiman is not sublimation, but presublimation.

“Society is intrinsically elitist,” says Sontag. Bataille’s analysis of neosemioticist textual theory implies that discourse is a product of the collective unconscious. But in Stardust, Gaiman reiterates capitalist postsemantic theory; in The Books of Magic, although, he examines Lyotardist narrative.

An abundance of dematerialisms concerning the difference between narrativity and sexual identity exist. It could be said that the subject is interpolated into a that includes art as a totality.

McElwaine[5] suggests that the works of Gaiman are empowering. However, the characteristic theme of Wilson’s[6] critique of dialectic discourse is not, in fact, theory, but posttheory.

If Lyotardist narrative holds, we have to choose between social realism and neostructuralist nihilism. It could be said that Lyotardist narrative states that consciousness is dead, but only if culture is distinct from art; if that is not the case, we can assume that reality is created by the masses.

A number of discourses concerning social realism may be discovered. However, the subject is contextualised into a that includes sexuality as a reality.

1. Hanfkopf, C. G. (1979) Neostructural nationalism, objectivism and social realism. Panic Button Books

2. la Tournier, M. ed. (1986) Forgetting Derrida: Social realism and Lyotardist narrative. Loompanics

3. Hanfkopf, N. I. A. (1997) Social realism in the works of Koons. Cambridge University Press

4. Scuglia, C. K. ed. (1976) Realities of Absurdity: Lyotardist narrative in the works of Gaiman. Panic Button Books

5. McElwaine, R. (1999) Social realism, objectivism and precultural theory. O’Reilly & Associates

6. Wilson, E. A. L. ed. (1976) Deconstructing Modernism: Lyotardist narrative and social realism. University of California Press

The Drill SGT said...

LMAO Theo

Jason said...

They got the 'tard' part right!

My favorite was "Social Realism in the Works of Koons."

RACIST!!

Kirby Olson said...

The humanities might once have been a place to not think about utility.

Aesthetics isn't at least immediately useful.

The Marxists have indeed colonized the field, and tried to turn it to their advantage. Their success however has come at the cost of destroying the field's prestige.

When we look for friends we don't necessarily think first of utility.

We think about friendship, which I don't think is 100% about utility.

It's about love.

And the humanities should be about that, again. In the broadest sense of the term.

But you can't convince the Marxists of this, or the other utilitarians.

A few people do marry for utility, or choose their friends on the basis of utility, but it's a dumb way to do it, as it destroys the quality of life.

The humanities should be about quality of life, same as friendship, and marriage, and religious faith.

But it's very hard to make this argument in a country where utility is a central criterion, and perhaps the only criterion, from Obama on down to the gas station manager.

I'm a humanities teacher, but am not a Marxist. It's the most utilitarian paradigm imaginable. It turns everyone into a tool of the state, and frequently forbids any private existence (declaring that even the personal is political).

The utility of the humanities should be precisely to make us think about the value of the useless, the things that are ends in themselves: friendship, love, beauty, laughter, the marvelous, etc.

traditionalguy said...

Thanks Theo Boehm, PatCA and Tibore and Kirby Olson...That was more intellectual stimulation in this one short thread than I have enjoyed for several years. You guys are good.

Smilin' Jack said...

The utility of the humanities should be precisely to make us think about the value of the useless, the things that are ends in themselves: friendship, love, beauty, laughter, the marvelous, etc.

Absolutely. You don't think the boys at Animal House majored in physics, do you?

MadisonMan said...

Theo, that piece reads very funnily if you imagine John Cleese reading it in his person-who-talks-loudly-in-theaters voice.

Steven said...

The only way to extract value from the study of history is to start with a basically conservative perspective on the unchanging nature of human character and a respectful attitude to how our ancestors dealt with it.

Approached from any other perspective, it quickly degenerates into a litany about how unenlightened and barbaric our ancestors were, and what a bad example they make. Someone who has internalized that litany can learn nothing from a study of history except trivia.

Tony Ryan said...

MadisonMan: Thanks, now I can't even look at that stuff without hearing the voice of John Cleese. Perfect.

One point: the traditional liberal education required mastering three subjects: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Having been out of college 25 years, I can say with certainty that if you knew how to properly read and write in English, knew how to really think logically, and knew how to speak in public and truly persuade people, you would be a very qualified college graduate. I suspect that they've come a long way from the original ideal.

blake said...

Art and literature are in short supply in this country

What the hell are you talking about? We're drowning in art and literature!

Kirby Olson said...

Thanks to traditionalGUY! I must say, I always read your posts. Thank God for your sobriety.

Michael Hasenstab said...

Thanks Theo Boehm, PatCA and Tibore and Kirby Olson...That was more intellectual stimulation in this one short thread than I have enjoyed for several years. You guys are good.

Ditto!

PatCA said...

Thank you, guys!

Theo Boehm said...

Ditto!

josil said...

There is 3000 years of culture that can and should be the basis of a Humanities curriculum. But, as things stand, yes, do away with it all until the post-modernists and their uncultured bedfellows pass from the scene.

PatCA said...

Theo,
I think Ann should read your post aloud for her CD!

rightwingprof said...

Becoming irrelevant? There's a verb tense error in that sentence.