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Guest Post: Death of the humanities (greatly exaggerated?)
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.05.23

NickS writes: Did we talk about the long article about the death of the English major? It seems like a natural area of interest for unfogged.

During the past decade, the study of English and history at the collegiate level has fallen by a full third. Humanities enrollment in the United States has declined over all by seventeen per cent, Townsend found. What's going on? The trend mirrors a global one; four-fifths of countries in the Organization for Economic Coöperation reported falling humanities enrollments in the past decade. . . .


English professors find the turn particularly baffling now: a moment when, by most appearances, the appetite for public contemplation of language, identity, historiography, and other longtime concerns of the seminar table is at a peak.

"Young people are very, very concerned about the ethics of representation, of cultural interaction--all these kinds of things that, actually, we think about a lot!" Amanda Claybaugh, Harvard's dean of undergraduate education and an English professor, told me last fall. She was one of several teachers who described an orientation toward the present, to the extent that many students lost their bearings in the past. "The last time I taught 'The Scarlet Letter,' I discovered that my students were really struggling to understand the sentences as sentences--like, having trouble identifying the subject and the verb," she said. "Their capacities are different, and the nineteenth century is a long time ago."

Personally, I had mostly been a math geek in HS but got excited about studying philosophy in college, and feel very strongly that studying the humanities was a good way to take advantage of the resources and opportunities of being an undergrad. But, at the same time, I can sympathize with students who want a degree that is seen as employable.

I don't think there has to be a tension between the two, but it does feel like the argument that liberal arts are a good preparation for life is not convincing people right now.

Heebie's take: Oh man. Heebie U is no Harvard* but we are mired in this existential crisis. Our admin's solution is to invest in a nursing program, which I think personally is a way better solution than other proposals about MBAs and Ed D degrees that we're also entertaining. But a lot of faculty definitely want the solution to be to reverse time and magically have more humanities majors.

One thing that's a little odd to me is that I wasn't really ready for much of a humanities education in the context of being an undergraduate (and I didn't get much of one, either). So I want the humanities departments to thrive because I think the humanities make the world a richer place, but I wish there was less imperative for everyone to obtain their humanities grounding during ages 18-22, and more ability to get it at whatever time matches the individual's growth.

*University of Michigan's alma mater literally contains the lyric "the Harvard of the West" which I always found hilariously insecure and needy. "Settle for us! We're basically just like the boyfriend who only dates girls who are hotter and smarter than you."

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Home-school escapees
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.02.23

Profile of some parents that make the daring decision to send their child to public school. I was all set to loathe them, but I ended up basically respecting them.

They were both raised in super-fundie home-schooled households. The thing that ended up providing the first crack in the foundation was when they were confronted with the dictate to use corporal punishment on their own kids. Eventually they undertake a lot of soul-searching and timidly decide to try out the local elementary school.

That's about the extent of the article, but it's a nice read. There's no exploration of the rest of the couple's beliefs, so I assume I don't want to know about their remaining worldview.

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