Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Crisis of the Humanities

For someone of my vintage the elimination of French was the shocker. In the 1960s and ’70s, French departments were the location of much of the intellectual energy. Faculty and students in other disciplines looked to French philosophers and critics for inspiration; the latest thing from Paris was instantly devoured and made the subject of conferences. Spanish was then the outlier, a discipline considered stodgy and uninteresting.

Now Spanish is the only safe department to be in. Russian’s stock has gone down, one presumes, because in recent years the focus of our political (and to some extent cultural) attention has shifted from Russia to China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq. Classics has been on the endangered species list for decades. As for theater, the first thing to go in a regime of bottom-line efficiency are the plays.

Read the rest of Stanley Fish here.


John said...

Excellent link.
During my lifetime I have watched helplessly as the term "liberal arts" fell from a place of academic honor into the "basket-weaving" category. Sad, sad, sad.
Classical higher education, still treasured in much of the world, plays second fiddle to the American idea that education which doesn't lead to more earnings is a waste of time and effort.

I read somewhere that there are more people speaking English in China than in the US. It's probably not true, but it drives home the point that the American impulse to communicate with the world has been replaced by an attitude that it's the world's business to communicate with us. Xenophobic demands for "English-only" school curricula and "English is our official language" underscore the same toxic thinking.

Ron said...

The capacity for deep thought is only increased by the depth and expanse of knowledge. I find often if somebody has to ask the reason then they really don't understand the question, knowledge comes from the understanding of the question. Hence, why study the liberal arts at all? If you have to ask that question there really is no reason to be given a justification.

So the judgment becomes an analysis of the reasons, thats why the importance of classical education diminishes, since it was never about the specifics but rather the sharing of knowledge, discussion, feeling and analysis, ideas, concepts....the process of thinking and the expansion of knowledge to enable deeper thought leading to a greater understanding......

Thus why arts and law fit well together :)

Dan Richwine said...

What I want to know is, what did I learn in my liberal arts classes that I could not, and did not, learn better on my own with the aid of a free library card? And given how most of my classmates were sleepwalking through their lib classes, what were they getting out of it other than an easy "A"?