Shedding Humanity, Shredding the Humanities

Anthony Esolen

An incident with a student provides the occasion for Anthony Esolen’s exposition of how identity politics has made humanities education nearly impossible and the “very notion of a common good nearly inconceivable.”

Sometimes a Crevasse is Just a Crevasse

David Randall

A study on "Feminist Glaciology" highlights the sad absurdity of the modern academy.

Acknowledging Things of Darkness: Postcolonial Criticism of The Tempest

In the Fall 2014 issue of Academic Questions, Duke Pesta, associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, writes on the limitations of postcolional criticism.

Defending the Humanities and Heather Mac Donald

Peter Wood

NAS president Peter Wood argues why cultivating an interest in the important and enduring achievements of the human imagination are as "relevant" as they ever were.

Test Your Knowledge: The Deaths of Western Civ

Rachelle Peterson

This grave quiz unearths the ends of Western civ's greats. 

Heart Ache: A Wretched Defense of the Humanities

Peter Wood

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences's recent report written in defense of the humanities lacks intellectual seriousness.

The Future of the Humanities

George Leef

The humanities, once the core of higher education, have fallen on hard times.

Wasteful Productivity

Mark Bauerlein

The way humanities departments at research universities measure productivity – by counting publications – incentivizes unproductiveness in teaching.

Another Good Program: History at Holy Cross College, Indiana

Glenn Ricketts

We add another academically solid program to our list.

Humanities, Anyone?

Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler explains why teaching the humanities just isn't what it use to be.

Debating Higher Ed: STEMs, Skills, Humanities, and Hiring

Joshua Wright

New research from a group of economic experts helps illuminate the question of whether college students should study the liberal arts or something more "vocational."

Some Critical Thoughts

Peter Wood

Peter Wood argues that “critical thinking” in the humanities has come to mean uncritical orthodoxy.

Thomas Lindsay On Why the Humanities Are Really in Trouble

Glenn Ricketts

Thomas Lindsay explains that the humanities long ago sold out to ideology and "critical thinking," and haven't been worth the money for some time. 

Three Cheers for Useless Education

J.M. Anderson

A community college dean argues that the value of a liberal arts education is not primarily monetary or vocational, and that's just fine.

Out and About: Steve Balch in Italy and at Carthage College

Steve Balch

This month NAS chairman Steve Balch discussed the future of the humanities at a symposium in Italy and spoke about the study of Western civilization at Carthage College.

The Humanities Can be Fixed

George Leef

In today's Pope Center piece, Duke Cheston writes about a recent conference at Baylor University, where scholars discussed the problems that beset the humanities and found reasons for optimism.

Obama Does It Again

George Leef

Duke professor Cathy Davidson (a Gang of 88 member) appointed to the National Council on Humanities. 

Humanities in the 21st Century

Ashley Thorne

At the Chronicle's blog Innovations, Peter Wood gleans prophetic hints about higher education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Center for 21st Century Studies. He sees the Center as an example of the academic left recycling clichés and passing them off as modern. And John Ellis, president of the California Association of Scholars, argues that we shouldn't save the humanities as they are now are - dominated by radical destructive ideology. Instead we should work to restore the humanities as they ought to be.

'Defend the Humanities' - a Dishonest Slogan

John Ellis

We shouldn't save the humanities as they are now are, argues John Ellis, president of the California Association of Scholars. If we do, we are simply reinforcing the radical, destructive ideology that has been allowed to take over the liberal arts. Instead we should work to restore the humanities as they ought to be.

Will "Millenials" Take to the Classics?

George Leef

In Friday's Pope Center piece, English professor Sarah Adams argues that today's college students ("Millenials"), while often derided for their apparent indifference to serious reading and thinking, will respond to the material in a classical liberal arts curriculum. I think she's right. While some students will tune out (or avoid if possible) courses that make intellectual demands on them, others will rise to the challenge. That's better than serving up pabulum to keep everyone content.

Islands of Words

David Clemens

Back when Bravo provided high culture, I was entranced by a South Bank Show episode on a Caribbean poet named Derek Walcott.  When I saw Walcott would read at Stanford, I raced to hear him in person, only to be appalled by the meager audience which clapped and immediately dispersed.  Alone with him, I nervously asked how his book Omeros was coming.  Surprised someone knew of it, he said there were publication delays but it would be out soon.  Shortly after, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. A few years later, friends and fortune combined to bring Derek for a reading.  That afternoon, he said he had always wanted to see a redwood tree, so we hopped into my Ford Focus and headed for Palo Colorado Canyon, but stopped just south of Carmel so he could survey the light, the surf, and the hills along the coast.  Walcott also paints, and looking through his framing hands, he slowly rotated and said, “Everywhere you look is a painting.” Derek’s sold-out reading was magical, including Tiepolo’s Hound, “A Letter from Brooklyn” and his Odyssey section on the Cyclops, a metaphor for all totalitarian dictators who have no depth of vision. Next day, Derek became impatient as his companion Sigrid embraced everyone, kissing, hugging, saying goodbye.  He turned to me and said, “Let’s show them how men say goodbye.”  He looked me straight in the eye, firmly squeezed my hand, and said, “Goodbye.” I felt like a child in his presence, this aging yet vital man, numinous, strong despite infirmities and occasional vertigo.  His masculinity was overwhelming. Now his latest, and perhaps last, book has arrived, White Egrets.  His lines move like waves and trade winds, elegiac, abundant with his island, the sea, sunlight, fields, lost friends, memory, art, and the enchantments of erotic women.  You can own this treasure here.

Unrequired Reading

David Clemens

Education needs a manifesto for a new humanism; sadly, Martha Nussbaum’s new book is not that manifesto.  I had high hopes for Not for Profit but Dr. Nussbaum’s argument quickly becomes a tangle of faulty logic and ideology and notably stale seventies feminism.  Why is she still pumping the wells of female victimization (while referencing the female president of Harvard) and the plight of African American children who lack role models (while noting the African American President of the United States)?  At one point, she praises Mr. Obama’s personal values as developed by the progressive education she endorses.  Then she indicts him for not supporting such education for others, raising the question of just what sort of person her recommended liberal education actually produces.  When  Nussbaum pleads for progressive schools (wherein teachers sagely guide students to discover and construct knowledge themselves), I think of Geoffrey Pyke [pictured] and his Malting House School (John Dewey meets William Golding). Although Dr. Nussbaum embraces Socratic self-examination, ideology blinds her to her own biases.  She is pedantic when attacking pedantry, and she abhors “the dead hand of authority” yet repeatedly invokes the authority of Nobel Prize credentials.  She advocates critical thinking to combat “demeaning stereotypes,” then proceeds to stereotype men, women, whites, and Southerners.  Masculinity comes off badly unless it is “maternal” which, she implies, is the true essence of human nature (making masculine behavior an aberration, less than human).  In this book, women are saintly and victimized (unless they are named Margaret Thatcher).  Nussbaum scorns the image of the self-reliant cowboy, then, on the next page, explains that every child must develop “less need to call on others.”  Decrying education that involves mere inculcation of facts (more Seventies flotsam), she later admits to the necessity for “a lot of factual knowledge.” Worse, Dr. Nussbaum extols the individual but avoids any mention of the tribalizing effects of multiculturalism and its diminution of . . . the individual.  Among several straw man arguments, she condemns “the facile equation of Islam with terrorism” without mentioning just who ever assumed that equivalence.  The values she prizes are particularly Western, giving her desire to spread them globally a whiff of cultural imperialism.  And Dr. Nussbaum recommends role-playing to develop sympathy for "the other."  I met an eyewitness from one progressive school in Northern California that did just that:  to develop sympathy for slaves on a ship, teachers locked students in a Quonset hut, chained to their desks surrounded by rotting fish. In fact, Dr. Nussbaum’s book is a call not for a new humanism but for an old political correctness.  She even warns that because artworks are so effective at creating empathy, teachers must exercise “careful selectivity” so that students do not read “defective forms of `literature’” which evoke unsocial feelings and “uneven sympathies.”  Yikes!  Goodbye Salinger, Twain, Poe, O’Conner, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka.  With friends like Dr. Nussbaum, liberal arts education doesn’t need enemies.

IHS Scholarship for Grad Students Exploring Liberty - Deadline Dec. 31

Ashley Thorne

Our friends at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) asked us to let our members and readers know about the scholarships (up to $12K!) they award to graduate students through their Humane Studies Fellowship. The deadline to apply is December 31. Here is the announcement from the IHS website:

Humane Studies Fellowships are awarded by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) to students interested in exploring the principles, practices, and institutions necessary for a free society through their academic work. IHS began the program in 1983 as the Claude R. Lambe Fellowships and in 2009 awarded more than 165 fellowships ranging from $2,000 to $12,000. IHS considers applications from those who will be full-time graduate students, including law and journalism students, or undergraduate juniors or seniors during the 2010-11 academic year and who have a clearly demonstrated research interest in the intellectual and institutional foundations of a free society. Previous award winners have come from a range of fields such as economics, philosophy, law, political science, anthropology and literature. Their research focused on a variety of topics:
  • market-based approaches to environmental policy
  • the legal development of privacy and property rights in 18th-century England
  • the role of patient autonomy in bioethics
  • impediments to economic growth in developing countries
  • the relationship between U.S. presidential politics, fiscal policies, and economic performance
Select winners are invited to present and discuss their research at the annual Humane Studies Research Colloquium and to attend other colloquia throughout the year. Fellows also join a network of more than 10,000 IHS academics committed to the ideas of liberty and intellectual freedom.

"The Humane Studies Fellowship award is a precious gift of time that will enable me to continue with my research projects at a more rapid and effective pace. It makes a great difference."

- Susan Hamilton, Harvard University, HSF Winner

If you have any questions, please visit the frequently asked questions page and read about the application process. If you need assistance after reading the FAQs, please submit a question via our contact form.

Please pass the word on to any graduate students you know who may be interested in this.

An Example of Educational Entrepreneurship

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor Tim Mosteller writes about his efforts at establishing a new college that will focus on great books and liberal learning. I'm wholeheartedly in favor of ventures like this that offer students a better option than they find at most colleges and universities. Trying to change higher education is only a bit less difficult than turning lead into gold. Let's give students who really want education -- rather than just a bunch of course credits -- the kind of experience Tim Mosteller has in mind.

Politicizing the NEH

Peter Wood

The new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities wants to correct Americans' "disrespectful" attitude towards Muslim culture. He is also annoyed at culture warriors and excitable people at town halls. NEH seems next on the list of government agencies to be politicized.

Bruce Cole: A Tribute

Steve Balch

Chairman Cole will depart the National Endowment for the Humanities with a record of striking sucess in rekindling the appreciation for this country's founding and heritage.

NAS Cheers "Enduring Questions"

Ashley Thorne

NAS hails with appreciation the announcement of the National Endowment for the Humanities' new "Enduring Questions" program.