Oh, the Humanities!

Seems I’m not the only one paying attention…

I grabbed this bit of writing from The Answer Sheet as I was browsing the internets the other day. Thanks to Liz Willen, I had a lot to think about on my day off.

Let me begin by highlighting the quotes that caught my attention the most:

“It saddens me to think of a world without literary references, of people who can make a living but come out of a movie theater with nothing to talk about.”

The first thing that came to mind after reading this particular quote was the ease with which I (over) analyze movies anymore. Thanks to teaching literary analysis at a higher level, I can easily identify Christ (or anti-Christ but not the scary kind) figures, sniff out plot twists (see my recent post on the novel Allegiant), and comment on the inner struggle portrayed by the movie character’s external struggle (Gravity). Oh, and I can also tell you what it means when people eat together (take your pick of literature here), and what it means when Okonkwo can’t fire his gun. I love being able to have conversations about things like this, and I absolutely LOVE that my daughter sees these things too – in books, no less, not just movies. My students make connections too, albeit they are more likely to connect what we’re studying to Keeping Up With the Kardashians instead of to Shakespeare. I guess one has to have a place to start.

The next bit is from Willen’s colleague Justin Snider:

“Many enter college believing their only career options are in business, engineering, law or medicine,” Snider told me. “These are the professions they know—or think they know—and these are the professions their parents most often hope they’ll pursue.”

While he continues on to say that a lot of those who enter college with that mindset eventually discover new fields of study (sociology, anthropology, even sustainable development), “[t]hey learn that success can take many shapes, not just in the form of initials (M.D., J.D. or M.B.A.) on their résumé. I tell them that what matters most in college is not what they major in, but that they find something they love—something they can imagine doing for a lifetime.” Great. Except that those people choosing to do “something they love” are becoming harder and harder to find, especially in an economy like the one we live in today. There is a great push for success over symbiosis and support, and for notoriety over knowing and knowledge. I see this a lot in my role as a teacher, and I’m fighting against it “tooth and nail,” as my mother would say, at home.

Is there any joy anymore in just knowing things? Any joy at all in being able to draw a parallel between things that happen in pieces of literature, and how they play out in everyday life? For instance, the recent post I did about Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” cropping up in an NPR story about people working in boring jobs. People (the people doing the study, not me) only make that sort of connection when they are well-read and, well, they know things. Right? Do we still, as a society, place any value in being, well, smart? We should – and that is why we should not let go of the humanities, but hold on to them for dear life.

Until next time…