August 13, 2012, 2:59 pm
In the most recent American Freshman Survey, the top reason for going to college was “to be able to get a better job,” with 85.9 percent of respondents rating it as “very important.” Only half of the respondents rated “to make me a more cultured person” as “very important” (50.3 percent).
No wonder the humanities now collect only around 12 percent of bachelor’s degrees, including history. (See the Humanities Indicators project for handy compilations of data.) According to the MLA, all the foreign languages combined (!) pull in only 1.05 percent of all four-year degrees. Even though knowledge of Asian and Middle Eastern languages is, indeed, a potent job skill in numerous areas of business, government, diplomacy, and the military, the humanities strike ambitious 19-year-olds as merely an academic pursuit. Shakespeare, Dante, Wordsworth, George Eliot . . . they seem like little …
July 31, 2012, 10:40 am
In 2008, as everybody knows, the youth vote turned out to be one of the strongest Democratic cohorts in recent political history. Voters under 30 went for Obama at nearly a 2-to-1 rate, an enormous gap that looked ominous for Republicans for many years to come. College students in particular showed extremely high “unfavorability” for Sarah Palin and for social conservatives in general. Even though only 51 percent of Millennials bothered to cast their vote in 08, their steep tilt to one side made them a significant political force.
A USA Today/Gallup poll from last week showed the same trend. As reported in USA Today this morning, 18- to 29-year-olds favor Obama over Romney 61 to 33 percent and they give Obama a 64-percent job approval. The poll has a large margin of error (+/-11), and only 40 percent of youth respondents say they have “Given a lot of thought to election,” …
July 25, 2012, 12:47 pm
(From Image Editor via Flickr/CC)
Here’s a conversation-stopper: “George W. Bush.”
Or rather, the mention of the man’s name halts one conversation and ignites another one. In gatherings with academic friends and colleagues, it has a visceral effect. I’ve witnessed it time and again as people have talked about the economy or about education or about the Middle East and I recalled No Child Left Behind or the highway/transportation bill or Bush’s disgust with Arafat, always adding the ex-President’s name.
Everything changes—the content and direction of the discussion, the tone of people’s voices, their postures and expressions. The ordinary back-and-forth of exchange gives way to people’s eagerness to denounce and decry.
For awhile, I responded by invoking this or that fact, mildly …
July 17, 2012, 1:45 pm
Let's get oriented, shall we? (Photo by Dru Bloomfield via Flickr/CC)
Russell Jacoby’s article on conservative anti-intellectualism in this week’s Chronicle Review opens with a fair appraisal.
“Are conservative intellectuals anti-intellectual? The short answer must be no. Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Harvey Mansfield, Wilfred M. McClay—conservative thinkers have championed scholarship, learning, and history.”
For conservatives who are tired of hearing liberals and leftists rehearse the “conservatives-are-stupid” charge, it’s a welcome concession. But as Jacoby’s next sentences signal–”The long answer, however, is more ambiguous. Confronted by social upheavals, conservative intellectuals tend to blame other intellectuals—socialist, liberal, secular”—the essay shifts…
July 13, 2012, 11:23 am
1800 portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, via Wikipedia
A few years ago in a meeting on high-school standards for English-language arts, a debate broke out over the propriety of a recommended reading list. I and one other person pushed for a set list of titles, my preference going so far as to accept nothing less than 50 years old. Everybody else objected, some of them bitterly. At one point, when the historical importance of foundational U.S. documents came up, one man talked about including them in his class, but punctuated his description with this:
“I teach Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia to my high school students and as we go through it I show them the obvious conclusion that Jefferson WAS A RACIST!”
He paused to let the dramatic impact set in, as if I and the…
June 26, 2012, 10:04 am
As the situation at University of Virgina unfolded and press reports leaked out as to why President Sullivan abruptly resigned, one suggestion stood out for humanities professors. It appeared in a Washington Post story that came out on the 17th. It stated:
“Besides broad philosophical differences, they [Board members who wanted Sullivan out] had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.”
I assumed that the qualifier “obscure” stemmed from the Board members, not with Post reporters Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar. A couple of days later, though, board members denied that they were out to terminate any programs. But the fact that the characterization of classics and German as “obscure” ever appeared at all show…
June 10, 2012, 7:39 pm
(Photo by Flickr/CC user racheocity)
If you have a disposition for “art music,” say, the albums of Thelonious Monk, circulation in public places has become increasingly irritating. In grocery stores, at airport gates, in coffee houses, on the bus, in the lobby, from the cars at the red light . . . pop music blares through speakers and screens in inescapable pulsation. You love Brilliant Corners, Monk’s Dream, and the rest, and the sounds filling the air at every commercial stopping place (so it seems) make you start talking like Wynton Marsalis.
I grew up in a home dominated by Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner, and light musical entertainment was Puccini and Donizetti. My brother and I rebelled at age 16 by becoming fanatics for Aerosmith, the Doors, Zeppelin, and Bad Company (remember them?)….
June 4, 2012, 10:30 am
(Photo by Flickr/CC user kodomut)
Here is one version of youth in the Digital Age:
“Students, perhaps without even realizing it, are already seeking out ways to personalize their learning. Looking to address what they perceive as deficiencies in classroom experiences, students are turning to online classes to study topics that pique their intellectual curiosity, to message and discussion boards to explore new ideas about their world, or to online collaboration tools to share their expertise with other students they don’t even know.”
That’s a summation by “Speak Up 2011,” a survey initiative of Project Tomorrow, an education nonprofit based in Irvine, Calif. The quotation comes from the latest survey results which show continued penetration of social media down the age ladder. …
May 30, 2012, 5:01 pm
(Photo by David Shankbone via Flickr/CC)
As has been amply reported (among other places, here and here and here) and commented upon (here by George Will, here by Mark Steyn, here by Charlotte Allen), Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American identity for several years in the late 80s and early 90s in a legal directory that is “often used by law recruiters to make diversity-friendly hires” (New York Times). Furthermore, Harvard law school claimed repeatedly that it had a Native American female on its faculty soon after she was hired in 1995. After the story broke, a Massachusetts genealogist claimed to have found an ancestor that made Warren 1/32 Cherokee, but that claim was soon recanted.
Since the story broke, Warren’s responses have ranged from the feeble to the incredible. You can read…
May 24, 2012, 12:40 pm
A few months back in the opening essay of First Things (Aug/Sept 2011), editor R.R. Reno opened with an assertion that would strike most academics as backwards. “But as a culture,” he stated, “liberalism has become insular and narrow-minded. It lacks the capacity for the generous appreciation of other points of view needed in a pluralistic society. That capacity is more likely to be found today among conservatives, particularly religious conservatives.”
To the liberal intelligentsia, of course, Reno should transpose his terms. Conservatives are open-minded and liberals aren’t? C’mon. This is to reverse one of liberalism’s central claims, indeed, one of the things that sharply distinguishes a liberal from a conservative (and ennobles the former). Liberalism is all about receptive minds and inclusive societies. Conservativism is about restriction and denial. …
May 15, 2012, 2:40 pm
Much of the commentary on the firing of Naomi Riley from The Chronicle has focused on the substance in her original post. The main charge against her is that she condemned a field without even reading the evidence and that her follow-up was glib and evasive. The main charge against the respondents is that they are mouthpieces of political correctness tossing irresponsible, ad hominem charges of racism.
The substance of Riley’s charges is an empirical matter that may be settled through, for instance, a general review of the dissertations in black studies for the last five years. That kind of study, however, if it came up with a negative evaluation, would likely provoke the same ire even if it offered a careful summary of the theses. That’s why the emotional and rhetorical side of the reaction is a topic in itself. They exceed the thing that prompted them. The…
May 4, 2012, 7:14 pm
The most significant element in the controversy surrounding Naomi Riley’s blog posting is the disproportionate nature of the responses. Consider the following.
The Northwestern faculty letter includes this sentence: “To write such disparaging comments about young scholars and their expressions of intellectual curiosity is cowardly, uninformed, irresponsible, repugnant, and contrary to the mission of higher education.”
Northwestern graduate students weigh in with a defense that offers these remarks : “Instead of taking her own advice given to her readers to ‘just read the dissertations,’ Riley displays breathtaking arrogance and gutless anti-intellectualism by drawing such severe conclusions about our work and African-American studies as a whole based on four or five sentence synopses of our dissertation projects. . . . One can only assume that in a bid to not be…
April 30, 2012, 8:14 am
Alsop (right) with journalist Turner Catledge (photo from Wikipedia)
In the Wall Street Journal last week, Terry Teachout tells a story that might serve as a sober parable for our time. It’s about Joseph Alsop, a prominent political columnist during the 50s and 60s, about whom a play has just opened (starring John Lithgow–see review here). Noting Alsop’s personal condition as a “closeted homosexual,” Teachout recalls one disturbing episode in his life, “something that happened to Mr. Alsop when he visited Moscow in 1957, at the height of the Cold War.”
“It seems that he picked up a young man at a party and spent the night with him,” Teachout writes, “not knowing that the fellow in question was a KGB operative and that he had inadvertently stumbled into what is known to intelligence agents as a…
April 23, 2012, 8:26 am
Jonathan Haidt’s research and writings have received ample notice in recent months, including this profile in The Chronicle, this upcoming panel at American Enterprise Institute, and this article by Haidt in Reason Magazine. One reason is that Haidt and colleagues have designed studies that attempt to measure differences between conservatives and liberals, and the results have been newsworthy.
Among his premises is the identification of six pairings of “moral concerns,” namely, care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. One of the applications of those pairings is a study that Haidt describes in Reason this way:
“In a study I conducted with colleagues Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than 2,000 American visitors to fill…
April 16, 2012, 8:09 am
Here is an interesting study that came out a few days ago. Using “biometric belts” and glasses with cameras inside, it followed 30 people, some of them digital natives and some digital immigrants, for 300 nonworking hours and counted their media habits. The natives, it turned out, switch media platforms 27 times per hour. (The rate was 35 percent higher than immigrants’ rate.)
The quick changes younger people make in leisure time worries advertisers because advertisers need eyes and ears to stay in one place in order to make their marketing effective. That’s the focus here. But, of course, educators have a different concern. If students move so quickly from one medium to another, if a few seconds of boredom send them running for stimulation elsewhere, they have a heckuva time reading chapters in textbooks, finishing The Scarlet Letter, writing the research paper, and other…
April 9, 2012, 7:54 am
It is increasingly urgent and necessary that someone in the White House, or a high figure in the Democratic Party, or, perhaps best, an ex-President remind President Obama that he is the president of the entire United States and every citizen in them. For his entire term, every president is the leader of those who voted for him and those who didn’t, those who like him and those who despise him. This is one of the toughest tests of leadership, that is, the ability to lead those who disagree with your policies and dislike your character, but it’s part of the job nonetheless.
Of course, the burden of leadership conflicts with the burden of campaigning, and it has always put a sitting president in a delicate position in the last year of his first term. He has to serve as president for all, and yet to win reelection he has to define himself against an opposition. The temptation is …
April 2, 2012, 8:12 am
I teach freshman composition nearly every semester, and I’m changing my assignments. I require 25 or so pages of finished, edited essay writing for the course to go along with 10 or 12 one-page homework exercises (such as: “Why are books dangerous in Montag’s society?”). Usually, the essay requirement involves three or four papers that have a thesis and an argument, with lots of analysis. Sometimes, though, I’ve tried short papers now and then, 2-page assignments that require one simple method: summarize all or part of an assigned reading.
From now on, my syllabus will require no research papers, no analytical tasks, no thesis, no argument, no conclusion. No critical thinking and no higher-order thinking skills. Instead, the semester will run up 14 two-page summaries (plus the homework exercises). When we read portions of Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Divine Comedy, and…
March 26, 2012, 7:30 am
How often do works of genius happen in the humanities fields? Not works of intelligent, careful scholarship, which appear every year, but works that alter basic assumptions and practices, that change thinking. These are the works that you can’t ignore if they touch upon your expertise, the ideas and methods that seem to mark a division of pre- and post-, as in literary criticism before Derrida and after.
In my area of literary studies, genuinely original and incisive books and essays come along infrequently–once a decade or so is my impression. Literary studies moves forward with some 70,000 items of scholarship published every year, but the arrival of the radically or sweepingly new, which takes the form of a theory more than that of a discovery, is altogether rare. The humanities move slowly, 99.99 percent of its research labor being accretive or summary or contributory, …
March 20, 2012, 12:29 pm
(Photo by Flickr CC user Mark Samsom)
The findings of an important study came out last week, and they were reported in The New York Times here. A pilot program conducted by the NYC Education Department and implemented in city elementary schools, funded by a private charity and started by school chief Joel Klein in 2008, compared reading achievement for two sets of students, those instructed in the “balanced literacy” method, and those instructed in the Core Knowledge curriculum.
The results were striking, with the Core Knowledge group performing significantly higher on reading comprehension than the balanced literacy group. The study added examinations of the students’ knowledge in social studies and science, and here, too, Core Knowledge produced significantly higher outcomes. (The inclusion of social…