Not an original observation, I know, but until now I hadn't seen the phenomenon up close.
The humanities are not kaput at the college where I teach, by the way. The college where I teach is a holdout for traditional English (and grammar!): an outpost. But the very fact that traditional English is holding on at my college may actually be evidence for the kaputness of the humanities elsewhere.
(Which reminds me....a while back I downloaded a series of lectures on American literature by a professor at Yale. I should find those and listen to one just to see.)
This week I have been stumbling upon near-daily evidence that the humanities as we once knew them are no more.
Yesterday, for instance, I came across a film professor at Appalachian State University, I think it was, explaining that the purpose of education is to expose 18-year olds to "diversity," thus eliminating "hate."
College eliminates hate via affirmative action enrollment.
(What is the purpose of college for the diverse people whose presence on campus is so educational for their white counterparts? Not addressed.)
Then today I listened to a 10-minute Stanford podcast, an interview with a Stanford English professor, on the Book of Genesis. I was excited to discover the podcast, which I'd forgotten I had, because I teach 3 chapters from the Book of Genesis in my composition class. Also, I'm reading the Bible (trying to), and I'm interested in the Bible.
But the interview was a great disappointment. Mostly, the professor spent his time talking about why anyone should want to read the Book of Genesis in the first place.
To be fair, the interviewer had pretty much asked, going in, "Why on Earth are we reading the Book of Genesis?" She asked nicely, but the fact that she asked at all: more evidence the humanities are dead. Dead or not doing their job.
Of course, given the fact that the humanities are not doing their job, "Why are we reading the Book of Genesis?" is a legitimate question. Maybe even the question. I myself would have liked to hear a scholarly explanation of why an educated person should read the Bible. For instance, I'm especially curious about how ignorance of the Bible affects my ability to read the many novels that draw on the Bible.
But the professor didn't get into that. He did make the interesting observation that everyone has an opinion about the Book of Genesis whether they think they do or not (not his words), but he didn't develop that idea, either.
Instead, he transitioned to a lengthy reflection on the fact that so many people take the Bible seriously in a non-English-professor sort of way -- "and that's OK," he said.
But not completely OK, apparently. The reason to read the Book of Genesis, he finally concluded, is to show students that it is possible to talk about contested material in a civil and dispassionate manner, and that is the goal of a college education.
Civil discourse is the goal of a $60K/year Stanford education.
That's going to come as news to parents, most of whom likely think -- if they think of it at all -- that civil discourse is the prerequisite for a college education, not the goal. Minding your manners in class: something a Stanford student should know how to do going in.
Then tonight I came across the following, also on the Stanford website:
What do you think of when you think of the word "grammar"? ... "Usually, our minds go to those unending rules and exceptions, those repetitive drills and worksheets..." (720). This formal grammar is "the deadly kind of grammar," the one that makes us anxious....So film professors at Appalachian State are curing hate, English professors at Stanford are curing religious conflict, and composition theorists are attending to anxiety about grammar while bludgeoning the rules, drills, and worksheets that would prevent anxiety about grammar developing in the first place.
English as a discipline seems to be gone.