What People Don’t Get

From Mike’s blog:

What‘s something that seems obvious within your profession, but the general public seems to misunderstand?

— Louie (@Mantia) July 1, 2018

That the absolute majority of students are not smartphone-obsessed snowflakey SJW types we keep reading about in the press. Most students live in a different galaxy from all this triggers / cultural appropriation / “I’m too sensitive to exist” crap.

Also, that lack of funding is really not what’s causing problems in the Humanities.

43 thoughts on “What People Don’t Get

  1. That for academics, “work” is not confined entirely to the time spent standing in front of a class teaching.


    1. All too often we teach as if they all were smart phone obsessed snowflakey SJW types. And they get confused and annoyed because none of it is relevant to their lives.


      1. For example. Here in the Midwest many students are religious. It’s a big part of their lives. We teach Hispanic literature which was deeply Catholic until very recently. How often do we address that part of the legacy with a sense of awe and admiration? How often do we discuss it at all other than in the context of criticizing the Catholic Church and the Inquisition?

        There is too much triumphant, snarky SJWism in our classrooms. And this repels students.


        1. Most of my students are Catholic but cannot recognize the Catholic themes and also jokes, for Pete’s sake, in Spanish and Hispanic literature. Despite being Catholic the Christian ideas they are more familiar with and identify more with are the very vague kinds of platitudes you get in storefront nondenominational churches. These more serious Catholic ideas are upsetting to them, and being asked to think in the intellectual Catholic way isn’t what they came to college for, and goes against the idea of the personal relationship with God, made according to whatever you happen to hope God is at the moment, etc.


          1. Of course, consumerism has killed religion in developed societies. It’s MTD all the way. But we are in a profession where most folks can’t react normally even to a religious colleague, let alone a student.


      2. I think it’s not teaching them to read, and having them just memorize things for a test. Of course they really like that and call it “true teaching” — so maybe I should also do this.


  2. Yep. My own students, many of whom are first-generation college students, have families and kids and work part-time or full-time. They’re too busy with their classes and actual learning. They don’t have time for all this superficial identity politics and SJW crap. However, they are not as politically aware as I would like, in terms of state and national politics. For example, many of them don’t know the names of important politicians in Congress, nor do they have much interest or understanding of important issues (beyond simplistic talking points). I wish there were a happy medium between these two types of student groups.


  3. Curious to know what you thnk is causing problems in the Humanities?

    I’d argue that declining state funding for public higher education is directly related to declining enrollments in humanities majors, which in turn shrinks the resources available for the humanities — but that’s not necessarily what people are thinking of when they claim the humanities are underfunded.


    1. Right now my colleagues are fighting for our university to get a larger share of state finding. I’m sure we will win. I’m also sure that money will be of no aid to my or my department whatsoever. Even if somebody decided to give the money directly to departments – which they won’t – I honestly don’t see how a million more a year even would bring one extra Spanish or French major.


      1. I agree. Given the high costs of education and wage stagnation in so many parts of the US economy, lots of student (and their parents) are afraid of getting stuck with “useless” degrees and opt for things that have (or at least seem to have) better/clearer career paths.

        I don’t personally think that humanities degrees are useless and there are data that show humanities majors doing reasonably well on the job market post-graduation, but that isn’t what people believe to be the case and better funding for the humanities isn’t going to cause students to major in the humanities if they believe that that is the fast lane to the unemployment line. Funding that reduces the cost of tuition and the burden of student debt might help the humanities a bit, but it’s going to require much broader cultural and economic changes to change the perception that humanities degrees lead to unemployment, underemployment, and low wages.


        1. At my department, it’s even worse because we turned ourselves into a glorified language school where we teach grammar for 6 years and a smattering of phonetic tables. Honestly, I’d rather do absolutely anything else than get the Spanish degree at my own department. It’s a joke and not a degree. And the only reason it is so pathetic is that we, the faculty, chose to make it this way. So I don’t see how any amount of funding is going to persuade people that taking the easy way out at the expense of students is not a good idea.



          1. We can’t even justify the existing tenure lines. One literature course every two years if that doesn’t justify tenure. How can any amount of funding change that? Funding for what?

            We hired a new person to teach language courses. This summer we gave this person a chance to teach whatever he wants. What did he choose? Fucking language. He’s a wonderful person, a PhD from a fantastic school in a fascinating field we haven’t taught in forever. And that field is not language. It’s hard-core literary studies. Yet given a chance to do whatever he wants, he chooses language.

            In case he’s reading it, I adore him with an uncommon passion and am ready to share the very manipulative, dishonest things I did to get him hired.


            1. Is it possible to get a Spanish major at your university without doing any literature courses? Are there at least required courses on Spanish or Latin American film or something with some content focus other than language?


              1. Our students can theoretically get by with only one literature course, but to do that they have to do the all of the other content courses on Film History, Cultural History (=architecture, music, art, etc.), History of the Language, Phonetics, and Contemporary Society (=politics and social issues). In practice, I think most do at least three literature courses.


              2. Advanced Grammar 1, Advanced Grammar 2, Advanced Conversation, Spanish for Business, Spanish for Community Service, Spanish for Nursing, Topics in the Spanish Language, etc. That’s what they all enroll for and there are no students to enroll in anything else.


              3. “Is it possible to get a Spanish major at your university without doing any literature courses?”

                “Right now, yes.” Instead, there are actual courses called “Spanish for Community Service” and”Spanish for Nursing”?

                Excuse me, but this is ATROCIOUS!! If “Advanced Conversation” supposedly teaches students how to actually talk in the language, why would anybody need additional courses to cover specific services?

                Alas, the same thing is true today in German language majors. When I majored in German fifty years ago in a university back in the hills of Tennessee, the senior year included three semesters of classic German literature. By the senior year, students were able to read the original German works rather than simpler German texts.

                Now a German professor who belongs to my local Austrian Cultural Society tells me that classical German literature is notably absent from the requirements to major in that language.

                I knew that the sun would be setting on Western Civilization as I got older, but I didn’t expect it to set this fast!


              4. It’s especially cute when most of the students in Advanced Spanish Conversation are native speakers of Spanish.

                So yeah. . .


          2. “we turned ourselves into a glorified language school ”

            Deskilling yourself so that you can be replaced by a “learning program” (and an IT guy to keep them up and running) does not seem like the wisest career choice and betrays a serious loss of basic survival instincts…

            What is the justification?


        2. I agree with TomW regarding the public perception that Humanities degrees are useless. That’s why so many of the students at my school major in Business, Hospitality & Tourism, Nursing, etc., instead of a Humanities discipline. I really don’t think it’s the SJW politics taught in these courses–I think this approach to teaching in the Humanities probably only/mostly happens at elite colleges.


          1. “I agree with TomW regarding the public perception that Humanities degrees are useless.”

            In my experience, lots of students’ parents believe things like this. Since parents are typically paying the bills, they have a lot of power over what majors students choose. Many parents believe that mathematics degrees are useless, for example, because they do not know any mathematicians. The same happens with anthropology, history, and any discipline that does not lead to a profession of the same name. So, engineering, marketing, etc are popular majors. This does allow these departments to maintain higher standards, but it is tragic that other departments are sometimes watering down their curricula to attract students by being “easy.”


            1. We always blame everybody else. Students, parents, administrators, the job market. My question is, do we bear any responsibility or are we completely passive agents in all this. I’m seeing in my own department that we are messing it up royally.


              1. The department I taught in for almost fifty years reacted by creating what one of our department chairs from around 2000 said we were creating “boutique degree programs.” These were Math and Economics, quantitative biology, Actuarial Science, and some others. I felt this was a mistake, but it did keep our numbers of majors up. But to my mind it meant that some of our students were being shortchanged.

                I frequently recruited mathematics majors, successfully. I also, a few times, encouraged a student who was unhappy as a math major to leave a mathematics or mathematics-related major for a major in something else. The ones who took this advice were typically pleased with the result.

                The really sad case I remember was a young woman who was mathematically brilliant who was an engineering major. She did not like engineering at all, but her parents had told her, “You can major in whatever you want, and if it is electrical engineering, we will pay for it.” She lacked the courage to change her major under this condition. She would have preferred to be a mathematics major.


            2. A humanities degree is fine if you only need the bachelor’s degree as a stepping stone for something actually professionally useful — like a ticket to medical school.

              Most people think that a pre-med curriculum requires a science or biology major resulting in a B.S degree, but that’s not so. I got into medical school with a B.A. in German, and actually got a useful skill out of four years of college. The world literature courses were also very interesting; “art appreciation,” not so much.


              1. My dentist had a B.S. in history before dental school (he emphasizes it’s a B.S. and not B.A., which I presume means he also got plenty of science courses he needed for dental school).


              2. At my school, the only real difference between a BS and a BA in history, etc is that the BS doesn’t have a language requirement.


              3. “At my school, the only real difference between a BS and a BA in history, etc is that the BS doesn’t have a language requirement.”

                At my school (University of Tennessee), ALL bachelor’s degrees required two years of a foreign language — otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken one! (I know, it’s supposed to make you a better human being, or more well-rounded, or something like that.)

                For some reason, I picked German — and enjoyed it so much I ended up majoring in it.


            3. @xyzkasemiqz
              (I have NO idea where WordPress is going to locate this comment.)

              Both medical and dental schools require the same (VERY basic) undergraduate science courses: biology, physics, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. So you can minor in a “science” subject and get a humanities B.A. major.

              The first two years of medical school (and I assume dental school) have you sitting in classrooms where you’re retaught all the basic biological science that you learned in college, anyway. They could cut at least a year off medical school, and the doctors would be just as educated.


  4. Actually, though — DO people say declining funding causes the problems in the humanities? They do say it causes general problems, that then affect us and others. I think it is defunding of K-12 that causes the problems in the humanities..


  5. Statistics:

    That “Data science” is a scam.


    That teachers are generally not there to brainwash their students because this is not our job and because we don’t have time for it.


    1. It’s not even with better trained teachers but with more money. To spend on what? More equipment? We already have a ton. More diversity seminars? We have too many already. How does money solve the fact that we have kids who never saw an adult read a newspaper, a novel, a book of poetry? How do you solve this with money? Buy them new parents? Some kids have parents who read to them, take them to the museum, help them build their own library, sit on the floor and draw with them. And some kids don’t. How do you solve this with money? What kind of “funding” can substitute for parents who fill the house with books, drawings, poetry contests, and discussions about art? My father taught me how to analyze sentences for parts of speech and for syntactic components at the age of 4 in two languages. And he turned it into a game so it was fun. What kind of “state funding” can substitute for a dad who wants to spend hours explaining ancient Greek mythology to a kid?

      This is the kind of inequality that starts in the cradle and there is no amount of money or state funding that can even begin to compensate for it.

      And it’s not an economic thing at all. We lived in real hardcore poverty when the syntax lessons and Greek mythology were happening.


      1. Well actually, it used to be that a lot of this also happened in school. More than now. Now they don’t have recess, let alone art, literary readings, foreign languages, and all. But when I went to public school, we did. It didn’t entirely make up for people not having these things at home, but it made a noticeable difference


    1. What is killing humanities is hatred of humanities by humanists.

      Jonathan Mayhew, this requires clarification. I have no idea what it means, and I suspect many other readers also do not.


      1. It’s an old joke: the Duke English department, it was once said, was a group of people who hated each other– united only by their common hatred of literature. Other examples would be a conversation I heard in my department once about people feeling guilty for teaching literature. Humanists tend to be anti-elitists politically and wary of embracing literature because of its supposed elitism. The rise of critique as the dominant mode means that the main emphasis is showing how literary texts are racist or sexist, or that the canon of classical music is tainted by its association with certain social classes, etc… Within the humanities, things that are more social science oriented or historical take precedence. I recommend a book by Rita Felski called the limits of critique.


          1. The kind of reading/teaching/use of critical theory she is talking about is just bad pedagogy. “I am going to apply theory X to this text” is not a way to write a paper in school, let alone a good book. People should know this, but apparently they do not.


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