As I wrote earlier this week, there is a powerful tendency for literature and other topics in the humanities to become a closed system of scholarly study. Engaging with big ideas of society, history, and culture is a privilege, but it should not be an exclusive privilege, nor a solely self-contained pursuit.
That’s one reason I’ve chosen “No, I don’t think so” by Susan Wise Bauer for the next ProfoundNet. (Ms. Bauer is a professor of English at the College of William & Mary). She writes in response to an article in The New York Times (“In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth”), available here to subscribers. Here’s a snippet:
Did you catch the equation of “reading the great literary and philosophical works” with “a humanities education at an elite liberal arts school”?
This is the sort of thinking that always infuriates me: the unthinking assumption that education = degree at Ivy League school. The thread that connects all my work is this: I’m thoroughly convinced that real learning happens when a mature thinker sets out to educate herself.
It’s bad enough when literary scholarship becomes purely self-sustaining, but to suggest that a liberal arts college is the only place to approach literary study makes it worse. As Ms. Bauer concludes, “You can read the Great Books on your own; […] You can explore history without enrolling in an elite liberal arts school.”
If we’ve reached the point, as the NYT suggests, where we need to defend the study of the humanities, then immediately excluding members of the jury (those not enrolled in a liberal arts college) is probably not the best way to start.
Thanks, Susan, for a thought-provoking post.