November 6, 2013
A friend Tweeted a link to a New York Times “death of the humanities” piece recently. You may have read it. The title is “As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry.” It triggered in me a kind of autocomplete fugue state. I tweeted back a string of inanities.
- As interest fades in the public welfare, colleges pretend they care as they scramble to pay for the stadium and tuition rises.
- As interest in learning fades, colleges make sure they have climbing walls.
- As interest in scientific inquiry fades, colleges slip science into the premed curriculum and hope they'll get away with it.
- As interest in being premed fades, students scramble to choose other majors.
One inanity deserves another. Michael Bérubé pointed out last summer that the numbers don’t add up to a crisis in the humanities. Perhaps you’re not going to take the word of a past president of the Modern Language Association on this. I mean, he has a horse in this race, and also he was probably an English major so you may not trust his math skills. But he has Nate Silver on his side.
This story of the decline and fall of the humanities is practically identical to the death of reading, of books, and of libraries. The evidence is not there – yet we are constantly told these things are over, done, deader than a dodo.
As interest fades in reasoning from evidence, higher education must do a better job of helping the public understand why we need more reason, a more nuanced understanding of why college costs so much, why students are getting into debt, and why so many faculty are living in poverty - and less baseless hysteria.
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