Where I've Been

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"During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons--the many reasons--for what has happened. --William M. Chace, The American Scholar"

 

"Irriversible"? Why? Just because the level has dropped dramatically does not mean that it won't restore itself. I hardly think that the English major will drop off of the face of the planet. I believe that the English major, like everything in the American mindset, is a part of the economy. It's an investment, like all other majors.

Of course, I've seen a shift, as well. It's not hard to sort out the reasons for this particular shift... growing competition with China and others; fast-paced lifestyle; Man vs. Machine. It's indirectly our fault. If we weren't so worried about being the fastest and the best, this wouldn't have happened. However, there is an inevitability about society's progression. We are constantly moving forward because we are blesssed with the capacity to do so. This bless is evidently a curse- the same capacity with which we have created all these amazing machines has also driven us further away from the outlets that fully explain our human condition to us. The appealing nature of Literature (with a capital "L") and history is that they show us where we've been and where we should go. For instance, anyone who's read the John Henry story can attest that the "wonderful" progression of machines will soon be our downfall.

So, do I believe that there has been a change? Yes. Do I believe that SOME of the damage is irreversible? You could say that... We're always going to want to move forward faster than our feet can carry us (that's what hyper speed cars are for). But eventually, all of that won't matter. Eventually, we're going to want to get back to our roots (that ALWAYS happens. Not for everyone, but for most). Therefore, the English major is not going to disappear, nor are history and philosophy. While we can not fix what happened in the past, we can try to work with the future- use technology to our advantage while teaching the Humanities (funny name, right). This way, while we pump out our future scientists and business people, they can automatically know where they're going because they'll know where they've been. 

 

 

5 Comments

Melissa Schwenk said:

When I was reading the article, I saw the "irreversible" part and couldn't believe it either. If you don't believe enough in your profession to even try to revive it, then why are you still in it? There's always going to be the need to learn to read, because even if everything gets high tech and no one actually has to read the words, people are still going to need to figure out a way to get that information entered into a computer. Plus, I doubt that any of that is going to happen in the next few years. Maybe by the time it does happen, English will take a surprising turn and come back as one of the stronger majors to enter into. We shouldn't give up so easily.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

I don't think we should give up at all. There is a natural ebb and flow in the world, particularly in the learning world. It kind of scares me that books may eventually become obsolete. I express myself primarily through writing, so what happens when future generations look back on my writings and cannot make any sense of it? Scary thought!

It's scary, indeed. I love technology, but I don't think we should ever rely on it so much that we forget about the written word. I've heard about research going into technology that is able to plant information into your head, so you don't have to actually learn it. While that would be easier than studying for years, what would that reduce man to? It's like H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. The two groups of evolved (or devolved, however you want to look at it) are the Elois and the Morlocks. The Elois evolved from the upper class and do nothing but live a recreational life, but they have no drive to do anything. They can't communicate. The Morlocks are the working class, but they can't communicate either. They eat the Elois, even though both groups evolved from humans.

They really can't be separated into the upper class and the working class, because that's not how society works by that time. There basically is no society, and all of it is because of man's eventual focus on technology alone. Without valuing nature and communication *with* technology and "progress," man turns back into animal.

So as English majors, we're saving the human race ;-) Just kidding.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

I've never read the Time Machine, but now feel motivated to. That's a really interesting point, though. A lack of communication is usually the destructive force in any relationship, whether it be boyfriend to girlfriend or citizen to citizen. H.G Wells was a very progressive writer if he realized the dangers of technology. His theories of the future seem very likely because human beings evolve. But I have a question- will human beings eventually evolve to not NEED technology? Was this the point that he was trying to make in his novel?

I don't think that's what he was suggesting, because both groups were basically like newborns. They were alive, but they weren't living because they knew nothing beyond basic instinct. I think Wells was saying we need technology, but we can't rely on it alone. At Allegheny General Hospital, they have a robot that performs surgery. It does it with the surgeon controlling it from a computer with a lot of hi-tech things I don't fully understand, but the robot is the thing that actually cuts into the patient. Doing surgery this way, though it sounds scary for the patient, has actually proven to be more successful because the robot is steadier than the surgeon's hand and it's easier for the surgeon to see what he's doing because of the magnification on the screen. Technology and man working together is wonderful, but if we eventually get to a point where technology does everything... what would be left for us?

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