Thursday, October 31, 2013

“In the end, we can’t [?] lose”

From a New York Times article on the fate of the humanities in higher education:

Some professors flinch when they hear colleagues talking about the need to prepare students for jobs.

“I think that’s conceding too quickly,” said Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia. “We’re not a feeder for law school; our job is to help students learn to question.”

His university had 394 English majors last year, down from 501 when he arrived in 1984, but Professor Edmundson said he does not fret about the future. “In the end, we can’t lose,” he said. “We have William Shakespeare.”
I respect Mark Edmundson’s work, as these three posts should make clear. But two observations:

To speak of the purpose of college without regard for what might follow is to speak from a lofty position indeed. If students are to learn to question, they might begin by questioning the investment of time and money that college requires. What does that investment amount to? What does it mean to graduate with tens of thousands in debt and few prospects?

I’m not nearly as confident as Edmundson that those who have Shakespeare cannot lose. Classics departments, after all, had Homer.

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