Two examples of ludicrous things I’ve seen/heard lately:
Example #1 – A few months ago, I was in a session on the topic of, “how to defend the humanities”. The animator threw up some quotes that were (at least in theory) derogatory of the humanities, and asked people for possible responses. One of these quotes was from Harvard literature professor, Louis Menand’s, book, The Marketplace of Ideas (highly recommended, by the way), which ridiculed times-to-completion in humanities PhD programs thusly:
“It takes three years to become a lawyer. It takes four years to become a doctor. But it takes from six to nine years, and sometimes longer, to be eligible to teach poetry to college students for a living.”
Bitchy, but to the point. As people pondered this, someone put their hand up to offer a gem of a rebuttal. To wit:
“Well, we teach people to think”.
Dear God. Really? Lawyers don’t know how to think? Doctors don’t know how to think?
I know there’s a line of argument that says humanities are “really” about critical thinking (though, if that were true they probably wouldn’t be quite so disciplinarily-driven), but it’s one thing to say that, and another to imply that other disciplines do not promote critical thinking. It’s academic snobbery pure and simple.
Example #2 – This summer, Rosanna Warren published an article in the New Republic entitled, “The Decline of the Humanities – and Civilization”. At the conclusion of nine paragraphs of maudlin, woe-is-us, sky-is-falling (and largely fact-free) moaning about the state of the humanities, she makes the remarkable suggestion that only the humanities, as currently taught in universities, are capable of: i) giving people “a sense of what they are living for, and why”; ii) preventing society from “entering another Dark Age without a truly literate citizenry”; and, iii) allow society to remember “what it is to be truly human”.
Honestly, how self-absorbed, smug, self-righteous and arrogant does one have to be to believe that one’s own work is solely responsible for the maintenance of all human progress since the Renaissance? After reading it, I actively wanted to go around, eliminating random humanities departments out of sheer spite.
There are so many good ways to promote the humanities. It’s amazing to me that some humanities profs choose to do so by invoking arguments that implicitly show contempt for other parts of the academy. I know the majority of humanities profs don’t take these kinds of positions, but enough do that the image of humanities can be damaged as a result.
So remember, all you humanities profs out there: friends don’t let friends spout sh*t. Especially about the humanities.