All posts by Mark Bauerlein

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Nate Silver Crunches the Humanities

In the debates over the humanities that have unfolded at The Chronicle and elsewhere, the statistician Nate Silver has emerged an authority on the numerical facts. Late last month, Silver wrote a post on his FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times titled “As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career-Focused.” He cited figures from the Digest of Education Statistics demonstrating that allegations of grave decline are unjustified. In fact, looked at in the proper way, the number of student…

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English’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

booksWhat happened to English?

According to the Modern Language Association, in the late 1960s and early 70s, English accounted for about 7.5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees granted in the United States, but the portion plummeted to around 3.5 percent in the early 80s, climbed a bit to nearly 5 percent in the early 90s, then dropped steadily to 3.47 percent in 2004.  English has gone from a major unit in the university to a minor one, its standing propped up largely by freshman writing requireme…

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The Summer Assignment

All college teachers know the heartache of students who, for one reason or another, are indisposed to what teachers have to offer, but freshman-composition instructors suffer a special despair. Nineteen-year-olds enter their classroom three months out of high school, and few college tasks irk them more than a five-page paper on a literary work or social topic.

Worse than that, all too many of them don’t have the basic ability to write crisp sentences and coherent paragraphs. They don’t know …

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Teaching Writing Through Personal Reflection: Bad Idea

A pointed topos has emerged among English educators in the media in the last few years. It concerns a statement uttered by the educator David Coleman at a gathering of many educators in Albany, hosted by David Steiner, then-Education Commissioner of New York State, in April 2011. At the time, Coleman was the lead architect of the Common Core State Standards, the education effort sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers that set out to draft new standards in mathematics and Englis…

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Why Fisher Will Win and Texas Will Lose

When we examine controversial topics and the respective arguments made for each side, sometimes we see one group reaching for support that stretches a point so far that it looks more like desperation than reasoning. The quality of evidence is so flimsy and thin that we don’t wonder whether it’s right or wrong. We ask, “Is this the best you can do?”

A good example is a brief submitted by the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Union for Reformed Judaism, …

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On Eugene Genovese

Eugene Genovese died Wednesday morning, passing away in his hospital bed at home after a long battle with heart disease. When I sat with him the night before and clasped his hand, he blinked his eyes for a moment, then sank back into darkness. He was ready for months, and he anticipated, with God’s blessing, reunification with his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who died five years ago. (Both of them embraced Roman Catholicism late in life—Betsey’s perceptive account of her conversion can be found…

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Pride and Indecency

Many years ago, in a short piece called “About Shamelessness,” G.K. Chesterton offered an interpretation of sliding social mores and loosening etiquette that is worth assigning to every freshman orientation in the land.

Chesterton’s essay responds generally to a trend that we might date from the 1920s onward, when norms of behavior and decency began to give way to new freedoms in dress, speech, and deportment, the bar of propriety steadily dropping. (Edith Wharton once declared that the manne…