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The Forum > Article Comments > Rescuing the humanities from itself > Comments

Rescuing the humanities from itself : Comments

By John Armstrong, published 11/2/2011

Let's sub the job of lecturing out to YouTube and let teachers get on with helping students to cultivate habits of mind.

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Good article. I am frustrated social science graduate who has great faith in the importance of the humanities, but agree with the likes of Gregory Melleuish that there really are some serious problems with it today.

Overall, I think the humanities lack ideological diversity and a strong leadership personalities. I see it as a field in which criticism is directed at people outside of the humanities but there is little self-criticism or ethic of self-improvement within the humanities. The visual arts are much of a muchness.

I attribute the problem as stemming from the importance of relationship building for career progression. This naturally builds groups of like minded thinkers who are conservative in their conformity. I saw the same thing in China where guanxi (social relationships) govern every facet of Chinese life and lead to a stifling of discussion on a series of important issues. In both countries, to have individual opportunities in the bureaucracy you must champion the agreed political ethics of the bureaucracy.

The only solution that I see is to break up those groups in the recruitment process and to cultivate an ethic that ideological conflict is not something to be feared in universities, but something to embrace. Furthermore, the humanities should lead Australia by setting the example, not criticizing from the sidelines.
Posted by Chaddotikolo, Friday, 11 February 2011 9:49:54 AM
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There is indeed a serious problem with humanities.

It, "humanities", has been committed to a geriatric institution called ‘Universities’ and there is spoon-fed by the archenemy of humanity; ‘The State’
Posted by skeptic, Friday, 11 February 2011 10:34:01 AM
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Agree with Skeptic on this one. I taught in a humanities school at a uni in Melbourne for almost 15 years and I can only conclude that at least half of the research done was not only totally useless from advancing new knowledge but it was also self referential and twee - especially what is called new media/visual arts.

It seemed as if the school existed as an extension of an academic's hobby - to play with groovy cameras, sound desks, etc, to make, well... I'm not sure.

The body of work which is the humanities isn't in danger of collapsing - it's being strangled by hobbyists and auteurs.
Posted by Cheryl, Friday, 11 February 2011 11:40:54 AM
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My daughter has recently completed degrees in Science and Arts at Melbourne University. Her Arts majors were in History and Politics. The saddest part of her Arts experience was her early realisation that the way to good marks was to give the lecturers what they wanted. Thus her essays, particularly in Politics, were models of the pseudo-left, post modern ideology that surrounded her. Most of the time she didn't believe what she wrote but her few attempts to develop an independent point of view were met with scathing comments and poor marks.

If we want to know why students are turning away from the humanities in droves, we need look no further than the current narrow ideological focus on gender, class and oppression, a focus which ignores the intellectual and political foundations of Western civilisation. A grasp of these foundations is essential to an understanding of 21st century Australia.
Posted by Senior Victorian, Friday, 11 February 2011 12:18:31 PM
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In my opinion John is one of the best public philosophers in Australia. His books are always well researched, well written, and a delight to read. He is also an excellent public speaker. The Secret Power of Beauty -- Conditions Of Love -- Love Life Goethe.

As for Greg Melleuish he is very much part of the problem.
I find his writings completely wooden and lacking in any real depth or insight into anything. He promotes a kind of boys-own-adventure view of the world. As do the people he associates with.

The world-view that he promotes is a entirely within the framework of the now ruling dreadfully sane one-dimensional-man. The characteristics of which were described by Herbert Marcuse in his famous book. And also by living writers such as Zygmunt Bauman.

Greg's writings on religion are all essentially sociological. They contain no insights into the nature of The Divine or the profound depths of human Consciousness and Being.

The question still remains as to how the humanities can be revived?

First of all you HAVE to take into account the over-whelming elephant-in-the-room. Namely television and the way in which it has systematically destroyed our intrinsic intelligence, and thus by extension human culture altogether.

I have just read The Sibling Society by Robert Bly - a very sobering book. Plus the work of Joseph Chilton Pearce is very informative, especially his book Evolutions End in which he argues that the current and future TV generations are so profoundly damaged at the psycho-biological level that they are beyond repair.
What then will human culture be like in seven generations time?

This is a question that Robert Bly and all traditional sources of Wisdom have always asked.

We have NO Living Wisdom Tradition.
Posted by Ho Hum, Friday, 11 February 2011 5:50:06 PM
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As one who’s taught English at secondary and tertiary levels, I have to say that Humanities are in need of the last rites, quicksmart. Chaddotikolo’s assertion that the field ‘lacks ideological diversity’ is probably the understatement of the year. Humanities Departments at uni neither read, write, not study literature — they criticise it. A good PhD thesis these days mines Shakespeare for insights on what Elizabethans thought about environmental degradation (and I’m not making that up). The only reason you can’t critique misogyny in Homer is that it’s been done too many times.

Which hardly matters, since ‘Literature’ no longer exists in high school. Students in NSW might read Emma, but only to compare it with the movie Clueless in an essay on personal identity. They study Leunig cartoons by the dozen, but there’s not one essay on the syllabus, even though they’re required to write them, and the essay counts for 1/3 of their mark on the HSC. If they learned to write like Orwell, Addison, or Chesterton, they’d fail. The Board of Studies wants something in the form of a newspaper opinion piece. I teach my better students to imitate Op Ed pieces in The Australian, and if they’re assiduous they’ll finish in Band 6.

Most students arriving at University write better than their teachers, but that isn’t saying much. You can’t tell the class not to use weak verbs without first teaching them what a verb is. Concepts like passive voice or first person are foreign to them. Some have read Harry Potter, none have read de Maupassant, or O. Henry. A few have read Animal Farm, but since they’ve never heard of Lenin or Stalin (and often can’t place WW’s I or II in the proper decade), they miss the point. A fair few have enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I always enjoy the wide-eyed astonishment when I explain it’s an allegory of the New Testament.

There just isn’t enough literature left in the curriculum in 2011 to keep literature alive, so ‘Humanities’ morphed into the study of Good Ideologies.
Posted by donkeygod, Friday, 11 February 2011 10:50:51 PM
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