Sunday, December 26, 2010


I can't remember if I wrote a post about this before. I've certainly been talking about it quite a bit with others around the country and the world. That is: the elimination of many arts and humanities programs and departments in way too many universities and colleges.

I first heard about it being language departments. How French, Italian, Russian, even Spanish and other university departments have been shut down to save money, and the excuse given is students aren't as interested in them anymore, or that they aren't "practical" etc.

 This is an extension of (I wrote a version of this in a response to a comment on a recent post) what I saw begin in the 1960s when Nixon got elected. His then vice president, Spiro Agnew, gave a speech at the University of Iowa that I went to just to see what these propagators of some of the worst attacks against anyone who questioned their mostly rightwing agenda had in mind for their next targets.

It became apparent only a few lines into his speech that it was education, as I understood it and had experienced it to that point. It was couched in the usual Nixon era rightwing resentment-based prejudices against anything connected to Ivy League and East Coast educational "elitism" etc. Which were really code words for liberal Democrats and those who would push a  humanist agenda that sought to broaden the human rights of all people, not just the so-called "Silent Majority"—or as they're known today by Palinites "Real Americans" (i.e. white people who don't argue with the takeover of our country by the wealthy and the corporations that create their wealth).

Back then the right was only interested in diminishing the stature and cache of Harvard (e. al.) educated liberals like the late JFK and his brother Bobby, and the economists and politicians and intellectuals etc. who espoused liberal ideals.

By Reagan's rightwing takeover (and makeover) the attack wasn't just on liberal institutions of higher learning and those that supported them or benefited from them in terms of education etc., but any institutions of higher learning or intellectual rigor that espsoused liberal ideals, like equal rights not just for African-Americans, but for women and gays etc.

And not just that, but even the elementary and high school level institutions that were public, because they tended to teach liberal ideals and even personify them, as they had at least since the Depression and WWII and beyond.

The whole "voucher" idea seemed intended to plant the seed of discontent about the whole idea of public elementary and high school (is it an accident that whole "voucher" argument came into prominence on the rightwing Republican scene after busing to enhance racial integration became a hot button issue for "The Silent Majority" (i.e. white people who... (see above)).

And now "teaching to the test" that came out of Bush Jr.s education policy, which emphasizes math and science and quantifiable "language arts" standards to the exclusion of the old humanities and creative arts agenda (most music classes have been eliminated, for instance, even though it has been shown that those who take music lessons do better in the hard sciences than those who don't etc.).

Which led to many students today having little or no exposure to the arts, to the classics, to languages, etc. so naturally by the time they get to the college level they don't have an interest in those areas. It is clear to me at least, that by Bush/Cheney, the right had moved toward making the case for eliminating the liberal arts and the humanities for the most part from colleges and universities with budgetary and/or so-called "real world" concerns about the future of "American education" and its "ability to compete in the world" etc.

Interesting that just as these things are being eliminated in so many schools in the USA, China is moving to incorporate them, realizing that their old system of teaching just the "practical" curriculum made for great scientists and engineers etc. who could follow orders, but not great thinkers and innovators and creative geniuses who could create new industries and solve seemingly irresolvable dilemmas.

Here's a terrific response to one instance of these changes that according to my friends in academia are occurring pretty much everywhere in our country now. Thanks to Tom Raworth's blog NOTES for the link. And please, read this article to the end to get the full impact of his argument and the potential damage he is addressing.


Robert G. Zuckerman said...

I know beyond a doubt, with 100% certainty, that knowing other languages and knowing the history, literature and customs of other cultures, would bridge gaps in this world far beyond anything we know and are doing today. If our young people were required and able to fluently speak four to eight languages, which is quite do-able, our defense costs would plummet, there would be much greater harmony and harmonious commerce in our world, and there would be far less hatred and blind, habitual ignorance and prejudice.

JIm said...

Actually the leading Conservative college is Hillsdale College where intense knowledge of the US Constitution and ancient, world and US history and languages (including Latin and Greek) is required. They have a vigorous Constitutional course that I beleive is also available on line. If you have problems with education, look to the liberals. They have been charge on campus for generations.

PS I have great concern for the parrots. I fear their frozen, feathery fannies may ne affixed to the tundra that is now Maplewood park. They may have followed that beacon of liberal and fallacious thinking that is Big Al. I understand that the latest liberal thinking is that the cold is a sign of man caused global warming. Orwell may be dead, but his truthspeak lives on.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Is there a point to your spouting Jim, other than schoolyard taunting? Are you so omniscient as to know that humanity's activities have no bearing on our atmosphere? And that more mindful practices could improve our world? Even my Dad, of blessed memory, a hardcore conservative politically, told me that the deforestation of our mountain ranges affected the weather patterns in the breadbasket. You talk about "grown ups" - with your puerile name calling and such, you sure don't act like one.

JIm said...

On the contrary I value the humanities and am a history graduate from NYU. My point is that Hillsdale College, which has a decidedly conservative following, stresses the humanities. Most other colleges and particuarlly the Ivy League colleges have a decidely liberal bent. It is a point of fact that most campuses are dominated by liberals and have been for generations.

Robert, lose the nastiness, it is very unbecoming. I thought liberals were supposed to be nice and conservatives are supposed to be the meanies.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

NYU a liberal school. Once again, you make unfounded, sweeping generalization and stereotype name calling. At least I am upfront with my expression, as opposed to your passive-aggressive smear tactics and inability or unwillingness to own up to them.

JIm said...

Happy New Year Robert, you are hopelessly nasty.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Happy New Year Jim. I accept your opinion. You are simply hopeless!

Tim said...

In South Korea they've begun to replace language instructors with robots:

Apparently, real English instructors are intimidating, complain to much about their pay, and expect health benefits.

I taught German for five years while working on a PhD back in the 90's. The job market was already lousy back then - only 50% of PhDs in modern languages were finding work in the field. I can only imagine what it's like now. The irony is that as fewer full time positions became available, the universities accepted more and more graduate students (to earn PhDs they couldn't use), because the graduate students worked for a pittance and didn't get health benefits. They called us "teaching assistants," even though there wasn't a non-assistant teacher anywhere in sight. In fact, TAs were responsible for all of the 100- and 200-level classes at my university, which accounted for at least 75% of the courses taught in the department. They shut down a lot of the Russian programs in the country in the 90's. I think they had been funded with CIA/NSA money to begin with. But no one would have dreamed that a French Department could get axed. Mon dieu!

Lally said...

Mon dieu indeed!