Friday, March 14, 2008

Stanley Fish and the Neo Know-Nothings

Stanley Fish, the cynical curmudgeon of higher priced education, offered this feeble response in a recent New York Times op-ed piece to the question, “Of what use are the humanities?” Fish concluded, “The only honest answer is none whatsoever. . . . The humanities are their own good.”

I was so angry at his thoughtlessness that I wrote a whole new preamble for my section in the Chapman University College Catalog about why studying the humanities is so vital to perpetuating the very things that make us most human.

Here is what I wrote for Stanley and the semi-literate children who are currently mismanaging our potentially great nation.

Nearly all contemporary human problems are more failures of imagination, observation, analysis, interpretation, communication, common sense, integrity, courage to act, faith, compassion or introspection than insufficiencies of material means to solve them. These are the areas of competency addressed and developed in the study of the humanities. Literary critic Harold Bloom recently asked, "Where can wisdom be found?" Cicero answered him almost two thousand years before: "Not to have knowledge of what happened before you were born, is to be condemned to live your life as a child."

No comments: