Thursday, 21 October 2010

Oh, The Humanities!*

Priyamvada Gopal teaches in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. And she’s not impressed with the coming future for her and her colleagues:
The Conservatives, along with their consistency-free Lib Dem allies, are to preside over the greatest assault on the arts and humanities in the history of modern Britain.
From this overheated rhetoric, you’d think we’d replaced the ancient tradition of witch-burning with the wholesale roasting of humanities graduates.

Throw another modern languages professor on the pyre!
Lord Browne's review paves the way to the privatisation of higher education. With cuts in funding of up to 80%, university courses have been thrown open to market forces.
Aieeee! Market forces!
The arts and humanities are to be debilitated as investment is directed to engineering and applied sciences.
Too late to retrain, Priyamvada? *chuckle*
With students gouged for huge fees to give them "choice" and thousands priced out of university altogether, subjects without a self-evident "market value" face extinction.
Which is as it should be. We’ve feather-bedded the arts and humanities for far too long. Now reality has set in, and we just can’t afford it…
All but the most affluent will be induced to turn away from courses in literature, history, modern languages and most social sciences…
That’s just economic reality, sweetie. If there are no jobs for the graduates who studied pointless subjects, then there’s no point in offering them. Why is this so hard to understand?
Perhaps it is time that we in the humanities looked reality in the face.
Indeed it is.

So, are you going to?
Why, after all, should society subsidise the study of Austen, Aristotle, the history of religious conflict or the films of Ousmane Sembène when more pressing problems demand money and attention?
Oh, it seems you are. Well, you’ve certainly got…

Oh:
Alternatively, we could insist that poetry and philosophy have the virtue of generating creativity, empathy and tolerance.
Insist away. Can you prove it?
Since dictators, war criminals and bankers (Ed: check out that grouping!) also read Shakespeare, we can't claim literature will inevitably make society more humane and imaginative
Right. You can’t.
… but it does engages most people's ethical capacities.
You’ve just shown that it clearly doesn’t do that for some people!
Undermining the humanities in our universities will inevitably hurt school education and damage the ways in which we interact as a society. It will harm young people's capacity to participate in democracy as informed, articulate citizens who can draw on the self-understanding provided by Britain's diverse history.
We must go on funding useless humanities degrees, for the children!!

Which is a bit rich, coming as it does from an educational establishment that shows no signs at all of wanting ‘informed, articulate citizens’, but rather politically-correct, cowed sheep afraid of excellence and parroting the perceived wisdom of the time…
All costs are not economic: we must ask what irreversible deficit Britain will incur by allowing the profit principle to annihilate the arts and humanities.
And if the answer is ‘None’..?
Education, culture and society are like the oceans, an ecosystem. Plundering and draining one area degrades the larger environment.
Sounds about right. Lump this in with the woolly ‘we’re damaging the environment!’ waffle. It’s likely to turn out to be as true…

*Title shameless purloined from BruiserBrody’s comment

11 comments:

Longrider said...

Hitler, Uncle Joe and bankers all lumped into one group. I think Godwin can safely retire now...

richard said...

If the art's good, people will pay to see it. If it's shite, they won't. Without taxpayer funding, art will improve. In fact, without taxpayer funding, everything will improve as it stands or falls based entirely on how good it is.

H said...

The study of the humanities seems to have survived through two world wars, the Black Death, civil war etc. etc. etc. Perhaps it just might make it through the next four and a half years too, although that idea probably wouldn't get the commissioning editor quite so interested.

Clarissa said...

So we won't get quite as many people studying 'History of Art' et al. Diddums. Instead those people will look at reading something else or getting an entry level position somewhere.

And if they are poor and show potential? Well that's what bursaries are for and I sincerely hope that universities and/or philanthropists will decide to fund such things.

David Thompson said...

Gopal’s Guardian columns typically rely on distortion, question-begging and adolescent caricature, which makes her a rather poor advert for her own argument. Evidently, a career in the humanities didn’t make her the ethical and intellectual titan she seems to imagine she is.

Longrider said...

She probably fits in nicely, then...

Anonymous said...

You might similarly argue that teaching cooking is a waste of time when everyone can live on fish and chips.
Ditto for wine.

JuliaM said...

"Hitler, Uncle Joe and bankers all lumped into one group."

It's like they never read these things back to themselves and think 'Oh, too far...' isn't it?

"In fact, without taxpayer funding, everything will improve as it stands or falls based entirely on how good it is."

Indeed! I don't think the stuff that falls by the wayside is much of a loss.

"...although that idea probably wouldn't get the commissioning editor quite so interested."

Not in the 'Indy', no!

"And if they are poor and show potential? Well that's what bursaries are for..."

Quite.

JuliaM said...

"...and adolescent caricature..."

Ah, I thought I recognised the name!

"Evidently, a career in the humanities didn’t make her the ethical and intellectual titan she seems to imagine she is."

She no doubt believes herself to be just such a shining example, and everyone else to be deluded. Just how does one ever puncture such titanium-plated self-regard?

"You might similarly argue that teaching cooking is a waste of time when everyone can live on fish and chips."

I might, but I can't see why I would argue something so nonsensical...

Malthebof said...

Can anyone explain the meaning of "articulate citizens who can draw on the self-understanding provided by Britain's diverse history"
Tia
Mal

JuliaM said...

@ Malthebof - allow me to translate: 'people who think like me'.. ;)