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18 responses to “Are the Humanities dying? III Links post”

  1. skepticlawyer

    Thanks for the link, Mark. It is interesting that some people are starting to look at secondary education, which you and I (and Ken) don’t touch on at all (although people have raised it in the comments thread to my post). I am quite happy to be elitist about tertiary education, if only because elitism has to kick in somewhere, but not in secondary education. There must be ways to make our schools much better than they are, for more people. I just wish I knew how…

  2. Moz

    Wow. Andrew Elder comes across as someone who either doesn’t proofread or can’t think straight. Too often the meaning of what he writes is in opposition to his tone, making me doubt that he means what he says. The emphasis on ad homenim argument further detracts from his piece.
    …was not much chop on this front either. Labor leaders who offer anything other than platitudes on education are the rule, not the exception.
    Re-phrasing that without the double negation we get “Labour leaders usually have real policy on education”. Which is Pearson’s point, and one that Elder seems to want to disagree with. But fails. Repeatedly.

    The Pearson piece is junk, right enough, but it could so easily be dismembered on its merits without resorting to the sort of babble Elder produces.

  3. Terry

    A looming, but related, problem in Australia is the crisis in Education Faculties. Entry scores for B.Ed degrees are plummeting, and every means is being used by state education authorities around the country to reduce the entry requirements for going into the classroom. This of course reflects a teacher shortage, but is also has the effect of devaluing tertiary education qualifications, by indicating they are not really the primary requirement for becoming a teacher.

  4. skepticlawyer

    Terry: another point that hadn’t occurred to me. This is getting uglier and uglier. Gah.

  5. Katz

    Christopher Pearson:

    Most sensible people understand that until relatively recently, degrees were designed for a small percentage of the population who were particularly gifted.

    All historically informed people understand that Pearson has spewed a foetid flood of codswallop.

    Until the 1960s, that terrible era when, according to reactionaries like Pearson, everything went as pear-shaped as he is, university entry was “designed” to exclude all but the children of the rich. University education, in Australia a tax-funded government monopoly, was a potent cross subsidy for the children of the well-to-do and the most efficient means of guaranteeing cross-generational transfer of wealth, status and power.

    Inevitably, there was much wastage built into this system of privilege. The children of the well-to-do outperformed their state school educated competitors because their parents paid a tidy sum of money to send their offspring to private schools. These private schools have a well-deserved reputation as extraordinarily efficient crammers aimed at success in university entrance exams.

    But when these often gormless private school hothouse flowers suffered the cold blast of reality at universities, they withered and dropped out.

    Yet, this high drop-out rate was systematised. I recall a law lecturer of mine predicting in his intro lecture that one in three sitting in the hall would not graduate. He was correct.

    But it was more acceptable that the hothouse flowers be given their opportunity to fail than some hardier government school students replace them at the beginning of their studies.

    Back in Pearson’s “good old days” the primary social function of universities was to underpin the class system. Making efficient use of taxpayer-funded resources in turning out the maximum number of graduates faded into relative unimportance.

    This arrangement was “sensible” only if you think that reinforcement of the class system was more important than educational outcomes.

    Pearson, is an ignorant, fatuous idiot.

  6. Terry

    Katz: “This arrangement was “sensible” only if you think that reinforcement of the class system was more important than educational outcomes.”

    Pearson on Julia Gillard: For an educated person, it has been a decidedly one-dimensional transformation. She’s a self-confessed bogan: a philistine who doesn’t participate in any aspect of high culture and whose reading tastes are, at best, middlebrow.

    In March she told The Australian Literary Review her most recently read nonfiction work was Drew Westen’s The Political Brain and her favourite was Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree. I guess the bookshelves in her Altona home were almost as bare as the fruit bowl.

    For Christopher Pearson, its precisely about how education can maintain the class system. Evidence of its failings are seen in how someone from Altona can get to be PM in the first place.

  7. ChrisB

    The best illustration of how Australia’s universities saw their role up to the time of the great expansion is probably their higher degree policy. When my father went to uni in 1939 the requirements for the grant of an M.A. were the same as that of the Oxbridgers –
    (a) you passed your B.A.
    (b) you waited five years
    (c) you sent in the fee
    and that was it. Certainly not elitist in any sense other than the financial.

  8. Andrew E

    Wow, Moz comes across as someone who wants to read something into what I wrote, but can’t.

  9. Eric Sykes
  10. akn

    Great link Eric Sykes. A comprehensive account of the problem with some spirited and rational defences of humanities studies (including the social sciences).

  11. paul walter

    Enjoyed the video, with the Annette Bening and Gwynneth Paltrow characters locked in mortal contest.
    Also other links, including a beaut article following Katz’ trajectory, courtesy of Eric Sykes.

  12. Katz

    Yep, the Sykes link is a must-read.

  13. Brett

    OK, my own link post — only has a couple which aren’t mentioned here though.


  14. Andrew E

    This is a great piece on education today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=share

  15. John D

    As an engineering outsider looking in I would suggest that, in this day and age, that to be “educated” requires a range of educational experiences in science and technology as well as humanities and language. Personally, I would have preferred general education to have continued for the first two years of university instead of having specialized in science/engineering from the start of year one.
    The idea that humanities should be imposed on the technology plebs while humanities students are kept in a state of technological ignorance seems a bit arrogant and quaint.
    What really counts in the outside world is a graduate’s ability to learn and analyze new ideas and information, solve a whole range of new problems as well as how to communicate and deal with people. What we need for a changing world are these generalized skills combined with short courses at the end of university to provide the specific knowledge required for specific jobs. The sklls learned from trying to put arts students in their place was probably more important fro my career than boring old engineering.

  16. dave

    Thanks John D for your insight. I always love being put in my place by the more knowledgeable and obviously skilled. In fact, I am often so inspired and dazzled by the analytic abilities of the would be scientists and engineers that I look at my useless BA and wonder where might I be if I had chosen a career in something useful…

    Actually I can answer that question (that’s was rhetoric John, just in case you missed it). You see I spent the better part of thirty years working in technical positions, being useful, learning new things and analysing problems but towards the end of that time I started to notice a trend. All these new things and problem solving never actually addressed more fundamental underlying issues, they were kind of fixes for short term stuff like putting band aids on things. Now you might think there are people who do longer term design or analysis work and that’s true, but that stuff is subservient to the here and now.

    After three years of a humanities degree I am beginning to realise just how much our conception of a problem or a challenge or future path influences the decisions we make and how we go about solving those things. I tend to agree with you that forcing those overworked science and engineering types to have a bit of humanity is unfair. The solution really lies beyond that. We should simply stop doing everything the scientist and engineers (and their best friend the economist) tell us to do, after all we are only human.

  17. John D

    Dave: At least have the grace to match the level of subtle rhetoric and put-down that I have become used to over the years.
    However, a misunderstanding of the way science works, the nature of scientific method and the implications of what statistics “proves” underlies a lot of the stupidity associated critical parts of public discussion. The climate science debate provides plenty of examples. Much the same can be said about misunderstandings of the nature of history and simplistic statements that imply a little bit of history would protect us from future mistakes. Vietnam id=s a good example of something that happened because of the lessons of history.

    Lots of problems can be dealt with at a number of levels, each of which may need a different mix of disciplines to discuss and analyze. That is the basis of my statement that

    to be “educated” requires a range of educational experiences in science and technology as well as humanities and language.

  18. Eric Sykes