Who killed the liberal arts?

    Who Killed the Liberal Arts?  Joseph Epstein blames his fellow professors in a Weekly Standard essay.

    (Professors) in their hunger for relevance and their penchant for self-indulgence, began teaching books for reasons external to their intrinsic beauty or importance, and attempted to explain history before discovering what actually happened. They politicized psychology and sociology, and allowed African-American studies an even higher standing than Greek and Roman classics. They decided that the multicultural was of greater import than Western culture. They put popular culture on the same intellectual footing as high culture (Conrad or graphic novels, three hours credit either way). And, finally, they determined that race, gender, and social class were at the heart of all humanities and most social science subjects. With that finishing touch, the game was up for the liberal arts.

    Epstein became a liberal arts major because he didn’t think he could pass accounting.

    He’s responding to Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, which complains that most students enroll in college to earn job credentials, not to pursue an education.

    This cartoon says it all.

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  1. Good piece. I hate how English departments now reduce the reading of literature to a search for “-isms” –sexism, racism, etc –and arid postmodernist analyses. Because of this, our k-12 schools are saddled with English/Language Arts teachers who have never experienced the magic of literature. Though I’m a leftist on most issues, I think the Left has really hurt us by caricaturing and scapegoating the West’s intellectual heritage.

  2. This is hardly a problem that can be blamed only on the left. I’m old enough to remember when literature was often viewed through the lens of religion, or of jingoistic patriotism. That said (and having a daughter who was shocked at the rigid idealogy she encourntered in a Women in Literature course in the early 2000’s), I’d have to say that the pure approach to the humanities that Epstein remembers is hard to sustain when we’re trying to convince all HS grads to go to college, and requiring all of them to take at least a few humanities courses.

  3. Katie Jones says:

    Education has changed and evolved so much, so this doesn’t really come as a surprise.

  4. Postmodernism killed not just the liberal arts, but almost the entire academy. Once you’ve adopted the premise that there is no objective reality and that any text’s “meaning” is whatever you decide to assign to it, there isn’t much left.

    Only the “hard” sciences have been spared, really, and that’s because you can’t possibly afford to ignore reality when you design a bridge. People just insist that the bridges don’t fall down.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The hard sciences haven’t been completely spared either. You’re right about the bridge thing, but the sciences have to a certain extent been politicized and corrupted for purposes outside of their main competencies. And, I think we all know that.

      • Translation: Global warming is a hoax! All those pointy-headed scientists and their data and graphs saying otherwise are corrupt socialists trying to send us back to the pre-industrial era! I know it’s a hoax cuz Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh told me so.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          I was actually thinking of nutritional science which is really an oxymoron, but your response, jab, provides us with an example of the moron minus the oxy.

          You know, all folks on the left are America hating communists who want to destroy Christianity. Why do you hate America and want to destroy Christianity, jab? Thanks for providing me with an example of how that works. Truly you are an exemplary educator.

        • Those graphs and data are as interpretable as “is” is to Bill Clinton. And actually, probably as manhandled as Monica Lewinsky.

      • Yes, I always wondered how postmodernists made their way in the world. If you really, truly think that “reality” is a construct of your mind and not an objective fact, what keeps you from having a good attitude about the idea of walking off a cliff. After all, you’re the one forming the reality, not the cliff.

        They don’t really believe it, I don’t think, they’re just in love with all of the wonderful, twisted, responsibility-free ideas they can come up with using very little effort.

    • No, the science’s weren’t spared. Think about poor Schroedinger’s Cat. In the Newtonian world, he’s either dead or alive. In the post-modern quantum world, it’s up for grabs! You don’t a much more fundamental question than dead or alive.

      • Wrong; in the quantum-mechanical world, it’s not determined until the box is opened and the state is observed.  There’s a difference.

        The difference is quite real.  You can take a pair of “entangled” particles, such as photons, send them a very large distance from each other, and observe them separately.  If you perform the same observation on both, the results will always have a certain relationship.  QM is both very weird and provably consistent with the world.

      • My apologizes if you’re offended by this, but… You’ve obviously never taken a Quantum Mechanics class. It is NOT like the liberal arts “reality is what you make it” examples given above. It’s a totally different thing indeed, as Engineer-Poet helped point out.

        • Took, passed. Not offended. It was a totally crummy example that completely failed to convey what I was thinking, apologies.

  5. Jab, when someone says “to a certain extent,” do you always swerve to the extreme? Your polarization of the dialogue has proven Stacy’s point. It’s tIme to shut off “An Inconvenient Truth” and get back to the science lab.

  6. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I watched with glee
    As your schools and chairs
    Fought for four decades
    For the gods they made.
    I shouted out, who killed Humanities?
    When after all, it was you and me.