literature

Pleasure Island

The kids! The boys! They’re all donkeys! – Jiminy Cricket Beloit College recently released its annual “Mindset List,” the findings of a yearly survey which attempts to take stock of the cultural touchstones that each generation of college freshman is, or is not, familiar with. Most of the observations are benign: “They can’t picture people […]

Read More

Common Core Mandates Will Harm Critical Thinking

Jay Mathews is one of the few education reporters who gets it. He understands that the heavy diet of informational reading Common Core mandates at every single grade level for the language arts or English class may decrease, not increase, “critical” or analytical thinking. But how are teachers and parents to know that black is […]

Read More

Coarse Courses Cause Critical Cries

Enthusiastically aided by Academia, the late 20th century saw such English Lit stalwarts as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and the Lake Poets dismissed as passé. In their place came the likes of Alice Walker, Rigoberta Menchu and Amy Tan, some talented, others fraudulent, but all with impeccable credentials: they were neither dead nor […]

Read More

Literature Professors Discover Animals

English professors have long been straying far afield from literary studies, expanding into women’s studies, disability studies, ethnic studies, even fat studies.  Recently they have migrated into animal studies. An ambitious professor might be working on a paper for “Cultivating Human-Animal Relations Through  Poetic Form,.” a panel scheduled for  the November South Atlantic Modern Language […]

Read More

Death to High School English, Thanks to Radicals and Progressives

It’s always amusing to find professors confront the fruits of their ideological views. Ponytailed colleagues who had protested and marched in the grand old 1960s have often shared with me their dismay at the deteriorating writing of students.              In similar fashion, writing instructor Kim Brooks in a recent Salon […]

Read More

How Colleges Mangle Literature and Art

I am currently reading Female Chauvinist Pigs by the fabulous Ariel Levy. Her 2005 book chronicles the raunchy tendencies of modern self-described feminists (which I very much want to call “raunch dressing”). Levy is a fellow Wesleyan alum, and she uses some examples of her time in college to discuss the problems in academia that not only enable porn to exist […]

Read More

No Comeback for the Humanities

Here is a story from the Baton Rouge Advocate that confirms the decline of the humanities in the state system (although cuts struck deep into the sciences and education as well).  Officials reviewed hundreds of programs in state colleges and universities, judging them by, among other things, the number of students they graduated each year.  […]

Read More

That Smug Article in the New York Review of Books

Last year, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus published Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids–And What We Can Do About It, a resounding broadside against campus policies and practices.  They berated the system for producing useless research, creating cushy working conditions, neglecting undergraduates, and reproducing elitism. Hacker and Dreyfus sometimes […]

Read More

More Defenses of Languages and Literatures

As debates over the fate of French, German, and Italian in higher education unfold, it is easy to feel dismay over the material decline of those languages and the traditions they represent. But there may be a silver lining to the trend. For many years, people in the humanities have considered and reconsidered both the […]

Read More

Will Graduate Work in Literary Studies Have to Cut Back or Shut Down?

The National Science Foundation has just issued an Info Brief on trends in the awarding of doctorates in different fields for the year 2009. (See here) The report contains data going back to 2009 and breaks the numbers down by Science, Engineering, and “Non-science and engineering,” the latter including Education, Health, Humanities, and Professional Fields. […]

Read More

An Omen for the Humanities Everywhere?

The news circulating among humanities professors across the country is the decision by SUNY-Albany to close programs in Classics, French, Italian, Russian, and Theatre. (Judaic Studies, too, has been virtually eliminated and journalism will be cut in half.) The general dismay is palpable, but faculty members should prepare for more of the same in the […]

Read More

The Suicide of English

In The Weekly Standard, James Seaton has a review of the new edition of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism that illuminates a basic mistake the discipline of literary studies committed many years ago. Here is the second paragraph of Seaton’s review: Despite its length, the new NATC is most revealing in its omissions, […]

Read More

Amen to Bard’s Reading Program, but…

President Botstein’s portrait of Bard College’s summer reading assignments in the context of the college’s curriculum and larger educational aims is winsome and compelling. The college leads its students astutely into reading important books. It attends to the order in which such books should be read—Virgil before Dante. It is mindful of the need to […]

Read More

Summer Reading for Freshmen—Arrggh!

What books do colleges and universities ask incoming freshmen to read over the summer? “Beach Books,” a study by the National Association of Scholars, has an answer: it turned up 180 books at 290 institutions and concluded that the book choices are unchallenging, heavily pitched to themes of alienation and oppression, and overwhelmingly reflect liberal […]

Read More

An Unusually Cheeky Summer Assignment

Many colleges assign incoming freshmen a book to read over the summer. The original idea was to give new students a shared taste of what intellectual life is like. Over the years, the books came to reflect the dominant faculty obsession with race-class-gender group grievance and the idea that America is a grossly unfair nation—Barbara […]

Read More

What Future for English Lit?

Many critical observers of humanities education believe that various left-leaning trends such as multiculturalism and cultural relativism become stronger the higher you rise on the education ladder. In graduate school, the focus is relentless in one seminar after another, with students composing thousands of dissertations each year that presume group identity outlooks as a matter […]

Read More

Death by Suicide: The End of English Departments and Literacy

“Who are you kidding?” I wanted to get up and ask the English professor who was giving a talk at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association convention in November. He was analyzing a graphic novel, the spaces between panels, the line widths of the panels, the lettering inside the “speech bubbles.” Maybe he was trying […]

Read More

Great Books In Texas

Matthew Levinton, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote us with some encouraging news about a new book club at that school, which he currently serves as President. Read his account: Last fall at the University of Texas at Austin, a new great books program began its mission to realize Thomas Jefferson’s […]

Read More

English Lit’s Poor Job Market

I have the print copy of the October 2009 Modern Language Association Job List, the annual publication in which English departments in research universities and major liberal arts colleges publicize open positions. It doesn’t contain every job opening in English literature at every institution of higher learning, but it is the main source for people […]

Read More

The Poetry Wars

Last semester, in an unguarded moment, I did what literature teachers should never do. I told a student her interpretation of a poem was wrong. From that moment I was regarded as an enemy to freedom. I invited my students to engage with me in online debate on whether an interpretation could be wrong. What […]

Read More

Once Bronte, Now Dan Brown: Summer Reading

High schools appear to be steadily dumbing down summer reading assignments, if this Boston Globe report is any indication. One teacher: ..created a cheeky list with titles like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Our Dumb World by The Onion. The former is a spoof on the Jane Austen classic that has […]

Read More

Why Read In Advance? Professors Don’t.

I don’t know who coined the phrase “a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage” as a pedagogic principle, but when I ran the words through Google, I got 196,000 links. The adage is the cornerstone of the teaching style variously known as “cooperative,” “collaborative,” “interactive,” or “student-centered” learning—part of the educational […]

Read More

Latest Vanished Requirements: Harvard English

You say you’re an English major—but you’ve never read a word of Chaucer, you don’t know which century Dickens wrote in (wasn’t he the author of “Scrooged”—or was that Bill Murray?), and you think “The Rape of the Lock” is about a guy with a sexual fixation involving keyholes. Guess where you go to college? […]

Read More

A Real Freshman Reading Assignment

We’ve documented the foolishness of most “Freshmen Reading” assigments in the past. Looking through the dreck, Charlotte Allen discovered a ray of hope in Cornell’s assignment this year of Gary Wills’ Lincoln At Gettysburg. Now that the assignent is completed, what did Cornell students think? The Cornell Daily Sun reports: “I thought it was awful […]

Read More

How English Is Your Department?

The Harvard English Department appears on the verge of changing its official name, from the “Department of English and American Literature and Language” to the “English Department.” This sounds like a good thing, a bucking of a trend that started nearly 30 years ago toward renaming university English departments in order to make them appear […]

Read More