The Forum | General Education

Quick Takes: Failing Humanities Programs Have Themselves to Blame

October 11, 2016 by Michael B. Poliakoff

If students who major in humanities disciplines tend to have good job prospects (“When parents won’t let their kids study literature” August 4), why are do many parents object to majors in English, history, and other branches of the humanities?   College catalogs provide the answer.  What sensible parent – or student – would choose an academic department with courses like, “Horror Films and American Culture” (University of Colorado Boulder); “The Rhetoric of Alien Abduction” (Bates College); or “American Dreams from Scarface to Easy Rider” (Harvard)? There was a time when a potential employer could anticipate that an English major had worked through the challenging thought and language of Shakespeare and other great authors, had developed a keen ability in analytical reasoning and close reading of texts, and gained a precise and effective style of writing. Not anymore.  Too many humanities programs have neither the will nor the wisdom to separate the essential and the great from the faddish and the nugatory. Outsiders can only lose respect, and programs will continue their tragic slide into irrelevance. Serious study of the humanities is an essential part of a college education.  It is urgent that boards of trustees demand better from humanities educators.


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