Category Archives: Reading Responses

What Does Education Have to Do With Capitalism?

The English major, as a chosen specialty by an individual, is most of the time a deal breaker in many situations.  Like in the case when that person is asked, “What is your major?” or “What did you say your bachelor degree is on?”  Many people are actually scare to answer these questions.  It takes great courage to say, with the head up, “I am an English major,” or “I have a Bachelor’s of Art in English.”  Even if you give those answers, people will continue to question you and will pretend that your education has been a waste of time and money.  Education is very important for any given human being, but here in America, in the country of opportunities, we worry more about what people are useful for, instead of how intellectual they are.

While reading an article by Mark Slouka, I realized that what we do is mostly worry about how people are going to use their career and education to make money than anything else.  In his case, Slouka says that one day, when he was telling his soon to be mother-in-law, that he had a Ph.D, her response was the following question, “What’re you going to do, open a philosophy store?” Ha, ha, ha, I don’t know how I would answer that, but what I know is that this is the kind of thinking that we usually hear about, this is actually, “The essential drama of American Education today” (Slouka).  We don’t see education as something beneficial in any other sense, but the economical.  Our thinking has shifted from what education actually is, to what education should be.   It is always about, “the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t” (Slouka).  It becomes something in the lines of, if it is something, like the English major, please tell me that you will make money with it, or at least help the economic world we live in, or don’t bother telling me about it.

It is incredible how we, as human beings, have gone from the abstract, to the monetary.  Nowadays, “It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production” (Slouka).  Will we ever be able to change this trend and thinking?  Will we ever wake up and change our current situation?  Maybe someday we will be able to change this, but it will happen as Slouka says, “Only by attempting to understand what used to be called, in a less embarrassed age, the ‘human condition.’”  Once we understand that, we will know that “In a visible world, the invisible, does not compute” (Slouka).  And therefore we will be able to realize that if education is not visible, to the naked eye, we the English majors can make visible in many other ways, and not only in the economic sense.

We have to remember that, “What is taught, in any given time, in any culture, is an expression of what that culture considers important” (Slouka).  If we let our whole culture think that education is not important, that instead money means more than education, then we are basically letting Capitalism make education bend to its needs in order to find success.  When I was a young boy, my father said to me, “Son, I will never in my life be able to give money, but one thing I can try, and will try, to give you is education.”  This words came from a very poor person, who he himself never had a chance to education in Honduras, yet he wanted his son, me, and my siblings to be educated.  He fulfilled his promise up to the point I could make that decision my own.  And here I am writing, in a second language, and thinking about a different culture.  Money was not my father’s interest, not it is mine, but education has played a huge role in my life and will continue to do so in the life of an English major, even if that means to confront Capitalist thinking and oppression.  If we let capitalism control our thinking and our education, we are basically in the situation that Slouka proposes, “We’re well on the way of producing a nation of employees, not citizens.”  The choice is yours.

Works Cited

Slouka, Mark. “Dehumanized.” Harpers Magazine. N.p., Sept. 2009. Web. 03 May 2013. <http://harpers.org/archive/2009/09/dehumanized/&gt;.

Response to Freeburg

by Kelsey Healey

The last lines of Christopher Freeburg’s essay “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth About Starbucks” in my Profession book are now practically unreadable, so completely have I inked up the page myself. Upon reading those lines for the first time, I may have gotten a little carried away with the underlining and the starring.

Freeburg writes: “If we do not help them understand better what it is they are doing in our courses, then we undermine their potential success and ours. We should, especially for undergraduates, emphasize vocation more. We should… present the tools and options our fields offer in the most clear and cogent ways. What will make the students themselves bitter… is the realization that we didn’t ask them to do enough.”

Freeburg’s point about informing students about the relevance of their work, and the vocation they’re involved in, and the bigger conversation going on outside of the classroom is spot on. The idea of “vocation” and the “options” available in the field of English is something we definitely don’t know enough about as students for most of our undergraduate careers. And while job-mindedness is not and should not be the primary focus of our educations, it IS important to know what is going on outside the university. And, how we can not only passively consume knowledge but contribute and produce it as well.

His essay reminds me of Sidonie Smith’s essay “The English Major as Social Action,” when she talks about students’ work having an “afterlife.” She quotes Marshall Gregory, “Information we can look up, but when a thing gets absorbed, it turns into ideas and skills, and it turns into forms of socialization and cognition that shape students’ intuitions and that strengthen their powers of language, imagination, judgment, and reasoning.”

As hard as it is to define the value of studying English, the above quote at least gets at one big part of it. The ideas, skills, intuition, judgment, etc. that we may gain are part of the “afterlife” of our work that Smith mentions. Freeburg echoes Gregory when he says that students cannot “grab the syllabus” and accomplish on their own what they would accomplish in class. It’s not just about the information, but also the skills being learned and honed, and the participation in a conversation.

Explicitly addressing the ways in which our work is not  “inconsequential after submission” makes such a difference in the classroom experience, and I think it is just not done enough. If we’re not getting the sense that the work we’re doing is relevant, then what’s the point?  I think this holds true for college as well as high school. When assignments and classes have no “afterlife,” they feel like a waste of time, and that’s not fair to students or teachers. And frankly, that’s where the “bitterness” comes in. Furthermore, having assignments in English classes and humanities classes that we don’t connect to a bigger picture outside the classroom only contributes to the myth that these courses don’t have real-life value.

As much as I love it, it’s not enough to just read books and write about them and call it a day.  It’s vital to give students “an awareness of what they’re doing, why they are doing it, and what it offers them beyond the loose rhetoric of critical thinking and writing skills.” Students should ask these questions more often, and teachers should help them always to arrive at some answers.  Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions; we’re just David Foster Wallace’s little fishies, swimming blindly around with no idea what “water” is.

The Humanities: Only if Daddy has $$$

By Megan Zappe

Apparently, only the rich kids get to educate themselves in the realm of the humanities. At least this is where the field is headed – students who are getting turned away from schools because of their interest in philosophy, history, and english degrees, students who are unable to even get into courses required of their humanities degree because of cutbacks on professors – who is running this show anyway? It is sad that kids entering college are being coerced into fields that will prepare them for the professional world. It’s as if the nation is preparing to pump out mini-clones of politicians and corporate moguls.

But the fact that it is predicted that only elite, wealthy, private colleges and universities will be able to offer the humanities degrees is heartbreaking. There are many students who deserve the equal right to major in something they are passionate about, regardless if that is pre-med or modern languages. There has always been a rift between the science/math (aka: “practical” majors) versus the humanities. There are countless colleges who are beginning to completely cut out their foreign languages programs.  What is at risk here is a generation of American adults who are specifically programmed to be cut-throat, business-minded, and harsh. They will be unable to value ethical reasoning, historical effects, and the importance of the English language in literature.

It’s even more saddening to be hit with the realization that as my college career comes to a close that there will be employers out there who simply do not value my degree. I have wanted to be a teacher for years now, and I am fairly certain that is where my degree will take me, but if at any point in my life do I want to enter a more business-minded tract, I suppose I might as well give up before I get started, since my degree doesn’t fit the requirements.

Money – what is it good for?

By: Molly Boylan

Is MONEY what it is for?

I think as someone who is an English major and has interacted with other English majors the answer would be: No. Money obviously isn’t the drawing force of the major. But from what I am reading in various articles, essays, and books, it was never about the money. Unless if you are looking at the funding being put into academics. It all gets shoveled into the majors of math, science, and engineering. Now, I’m not here to tear down the other professions that are out there. Personally, I think we all need to work together and use the benefits of each person and/or major.

However, just like everything else in society, if you follow where people spend their money you can tell what they care about. They are putting their energies in buying clothes, shoes, makeup, and plastic surgery. This shows that they care most about their appearance or what people think of them.

On a larger scale, American’s can tell what we care about most by where we invest our money as a country. If we look to the white house website, we can see that the Obama Administration is focusing on schooling that provides “on-the-job” skills. The President of the United States is telling us we need to do and get a degree in something that will make us as a country money.

Does this not seem backwards or maybe just a little off? I don’t know maybe I’m being naïve, but so are all the other English majors out there to think that we should go to school for things that make us happy and engage our minds, and helps us think critically so we can then define who we are. No! We must want to make money instead. (the thought makes me cringe)

Mark Slouka in his article “Dehumanized” puts it this way: “By downsizing what is most dangerous (and most essential) about our education, namely the  deep civic function of the arts and the humanities, we’re well on the way to producing a nation of employees, not citizens.” And it may be bold for him to say this, but it really seems that most of what I read this past week would agree with his statements.

The humanities are always having to fight for their worth. It must get tiring to love something that doesn’t seem of any worth to the community you belong to. For example, we can look at Patricia Cohen’s article in the New York Times, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth”, “With additional painful cuts across the board a near certainty even as millions of federal stimulus dollars may be funneled to education, the humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents.”

I was getting tired of reading the same things over and over, but then I thought… imagine living this life over and over. And constantly battling these accusations that what you are doing isn’t nearly as important as what someone else is doing.

Christopher Freeburg in his essay “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth about Starbuck” suggests that in order for the humanities to attain more worth in the eyes of citizens, they have to make their fields and courses vocational. Meaning “giving our students an awareness of what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what it offers them beyond the loose rhetoric of critical thinking and writing skills” (Profession 2012 26). And personally, I think that is a great idea. We will just have to show them why that is true even in the humanities. We will prove that the skills learned in the humanities will provide the nation and human population something worth investing in.

Yes, it may sound like a lot to accomplish, but hey, we have degrees in the humanities – we can deal with whatever is thrown at us.

Being Human: Defense of the liberal arts in an unoptimistic ecconomy

By Noelle Kozak

Yesterday I picked up my graduation robes.

I also  filled out my senior survey—which was probably one of the more ridiculous documents I ever filled out in my life. Mostly because of what it was asking, like how important I felt it was to learn…Mostly the question just annoyed me because the survey seemed to be asking me to determine the worth of someone else’s discipline. Undoubtedly, I sounded hypocritical at times because on instinct I filled in the little bubble that said multiple math or science were courses were not as essential.  Secretly I would like to admit that they are important, but how could I help my answer? I love the liberal arts. And given the choice again, I would always choose the humanities, the liberal arts education and English as my major. I don’t even have to think about it because my education has taught me how to be a human being.

However, Patricia Cohen writes some distressing news,  “Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities” — which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion”(Cohen). Her further discussions on the rise of unemployment for all of us, is more of a reality for me now then it ever was before. It is so difficult to find a job that specifically asks for English majors and it is even more difficult to explain to your relatives what exactly you are going to do for a career when you are highly valuable though seemingly unwanted. Cohen cites a lack of confidence in the disciple for proving why we matter beyond exploring “what it means to be human”(Cohen). The article goes on to say that many people so feel our value to the economy, while others say it is not just just about the economy but what we can contribute to the thinking of society on the whole. In other words critical thinking and learning to care about issues which affect our world does concern the humanities and it concerns all of us (Cohen).

Learning how to be a human being only touches the scope of why I really love the humanities. In so learning how do be a compassionate, involved member of society, English and the humanities has made me well rounded and engaged with the world around me in a variety of topics. So while Cohen laments our future and whether or not we can afford to be human I’m going to remain optimistic that one day our value will be appreciated. Everything that I am I owe partly to my decision to be in English and to be in liberal arts, so, even if that means eating ramen noodles for a little longer, I believe and always will believe that it was well worth it.

Works Cited

Cohen, Patricia. “In Tough Times, Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/books/25human.html?pagewanted=all&gt;.

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Dehumanization? It’s not as far-fetched as you think…

By: Kasey Lynn

Mark Slouka’s article “Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school” discusses the fact our society is becoming dehumanized. To an extent he tends to come at society with his guns cocked and fully loaded ready to shoot at anyone that even attempts to disagree with him (it’s a bit much). But his main points really are not far off from what our society really is doing.

We live in a society that continues to push aside the importance of humanities. We have senators that want to pass legislation that rewards and helps students choose “job ready majors” because they are more responsible than the students that choose non-job ready majors. And how convenient that the humanities fall in the category of non-job ready majors?

The humanities is not a popular field. At least not in today’s society.

As Slouka says, “what is taught, at any given time, in any culture, is an expression of what that culture considers important.” In today’s society fixing the economy is a top priority, which causes many people to throw the humanities out the window. Because of this Slouka claims that our society is focused more on the math and sciences, that our society cares more about “producing employees, not citizens.” With that focus, we are at the risk of turning our humans into machines, living life by rote and completing the same tasks over and over again, if this occurs, than we are dehumanizing our society, and we would be doing it willingly.

I think that Slouka may be pushing it a bit far because he goes to extreme to basically claim that no one at all cares about the humanities. I do not feel that our society is that bad, but I do agree that it seems our society is more focused on producing employees rather than citizens. The lack of consideration and understanding of what the humanities can do for people hurts our society.

The humanities teach people have to think. It teaches people how to have open minds and how to interact with others. It teaches us how to grow as individuals and how to grow as a community. A society needs people that have these abilities and this knowledge. A society needs a balance of math, science, and the humanities, an overdose of just math and science will not produce a productive and effective society.

The humanities are important. They are necessary. They create people with thoughts and ideas and opinions. If ideas don’t change or aren’t created then nothing will change. Progress comes from inspiration and inspiration comes from dreams and ideas. But if our society continues to choose math and science over the humanities, then how can these ideas and dreams continue to exist?

Literature creates a dream world and so does philosophy, talking about literature and philosophy creates ideas. These are two main areas of the humanities that are vital to creating people not machines. We live in a world where people hide behind machines, we live a world where the internet and online social networks control the interaction of people, if we continue to allow the humanities to slip away, and soon there will be no reason to connect with others because no one will have their own personalities or thoughts.

Slouka is a bit drastic in his thinking and I may have let myself go off on a tangent. The issue is not a life or death situation. But it certainly is a problem. And who knows, if the problem is not fixed soon then there is a possibility that years down the road it could be life or death because eventually generations will not have new ideas and will not know how to coexist and then more issues will arise.

The bottom line, we cannot live in a world without the humanities because we cannot live in a world without people. We are humans, we cannot, or at least we should dehumanize ourselves.

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Library Woes: Censorship and Banned Books

By: Noelle Kozak

This past summer, I had the wonderful experience of doing an internship at a library where I experienced firsthand—in a non-academic setting—people who were excited about reading. But for all its merits, it also had its downsides. Since it was summer, a lot of students came into the library with their parents looking for their ‘gasp’ SUMMER READING. Oh the horror! For a lot of these kids coming into the library was like a chore. Their parents were annoyed, they were annoyed and you could tell that they would rather be pool side than in this air conditioned building. Now, I’m not an idiot, I was in middle school once. So I know that every once and a while, you don’t like the books that are assigned to you. Yet, in the long run, I believed—and still do—that the work was for the greater good and that I gained more from reading books that I might not have chosen for myself. Occasionally there were students who came in with options—a whole list of books that their schools wanted them to choose from. Still as I sat behind the desk I saw incidents that kind of broke my heart as an English major. One young girl’s mother would not let her have a say in what she wanted to read, but insisted “oh no, you wouldn’t like that book” but for no specific reason.

In a rather indirect way, I am reminded of what Marjorie Garber mentioned in The Use and Abuse of Literature about banned books in the section “Redeeming Social Value.” A parent telling their kids what they can and can’t read—for whatever reason—is so problematic and Garber’s discussion really hit home. Throughout the essay, Garber comments on books like Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Lolita not being considered “real” literature because of their contents (88-9). From a scholarly perspective, she pokes fun at the notion that these and other works were challenged because so many believed that authors were trying to create “filth” rather than sophisticated commentary (92). I was particularly struck by a comment Garber inserted from Senator Livingston Blease of South Carolina who cried for censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover saying, ‘“the virtue of one little sixteen year old girl is worth more to America than every book that ever came into it from any other country”’(96). Though I never read the book myself, I was insulted because in only a few words the senator insulted women and moreover confidence in our youth to think critically beyond the layers of the text.

Where banned books are concerned, this is such major problem, because it is like telling youth and our society what they can/can’t understand. But, it also denies them the right to know too. Thinking back, to my library experience, I see that that mother in a way “censored” her daughter, and I wonder if it was because she thought so little of her.

Garber, Marjorie B. “Redeeming Social Value.” The Use and Abuse of Literature. New York: Pantheon, 2011. 88-97. Print   .

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Picture Credit to momentarycloudiness.blogspot.com

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Bloggin’ 2: English Boogaloo

Erich Hunisch

So English majors. They’re kind of like the crust on a pizza, necessary for the rest of the pizza to make sense, but optional to recognize as edible at the end of a slice. The way other majors look at English majors seems to me to be that peculiar stare of amazement you’d find on a child’s face looking into the orangutan exhibit as they swing wildly from vine to metal trellis and then retreat into a corner to spend some time with a bunch of bananas. Other majors, such as biotech or nursing apply learning as information on a loop. They learn information, keep it neatly stored and in order, so when the time comes to utilize that information, it’s easily accessible.

But English majors, woah now. Sometimes I feel like we’re out there  snatching every bit of invaluable wisdom there is to find off pieces of paper blowing about in the air, putting them under the paperweight of our brain and then hot-gluing things together with careful abandon hoping to create something that’ll hopefully stick more so to people’s interests than to our hands and hair.

Garber talks about the split between students of English and students of other studies. Citing Alberti to really make it seem like I am Robert Frost and that I have taken the road less traveled by, and by doing so I am this crazy kind of person who doesn’t eat and sits in corners and reads word after word by candlelight. I think she’s getting too excited about it because to Alberti it seems there’s apparently a stigmata against a scholar of English studies who know what it’s like to creatively self-express (i.e get down and boogie). Alberti, mockingly, asks *heh hemm* “Who doesn’t look down on a singing or dancing scholar?”

Well, certainly not me, and hopefully not the friends I have in other departments. I don’t think its our job to handle everything with tact and responsibility just because we should know better than to get “caught up” in semantics. Obviously, in this day and age of technology and advertisement, there are just too many distractions to keep us focused 100% of the time, so I think Alberti’s idea of this malnourished, nose-in-a-book English major may be a little stale, especially with the literary kinds of acclaim media other than books have been garnering over the last few decades.

Reconsidering Our Priorities Through Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

By Victoria Garafola

Speaking as an African American Professor at Harvard University in the Early 1990’s, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a unique perspective on both the value of literary studies and the need for change within the discipline. Indeed, Gates understands the African American challenge, the barriers that exist both academically and socially between aspiring African American students. Within his powerful essay, Pluralism and It’s Discontents, Gates cites that the “real crisis in American education [is]: a new generation of kids are going to be functionally illiterate” (138). How can we, as students, as scholars, nitpick over an archaic literary canon when our children are not afforded the “luxury” of a decent education? While Gates’ voice may have been drowned out by the blaring boom boxes of the 1990’s it is still clear to educators, parents, and politicians today that the American education system is ‘in crisis’… whatever THAT means. What I do know, through my own observation, is that most of the freshmen coming accepted into my “good” university, tucked into the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania, USA, are not prepared to write a basic research paper. Most students struggle through their Writing Skills courses and, time and time again, students shrug off their English courses as “unnecessary,” “unimportant,” “a waste of time.” Students flood our English department every semester begging for pink slips to get into Children’s Literature and Film as Art because, they believe, these courses will fulfill their core requirements without actually making them read a novel. Every semester students spend hundreds of dollars “buying” their degrees through online paper writing websites and the occasional “friend” who writes the paper for less than google can offer. What is the point of a “liberal arts college” if our students are being milled out into a world where their degrees really haven’t helped to enrich their own knowledge or prepare them for the real world that lies beyond the undergraduate doors? If I may quote 1992 Henry Louis Gates, Jr. just once more, “Forty-four percent of black Americans can’t read the front page of the newspaper. Wen we’re faced with some brutal facts like that one, all the high-flown rhetoric about the “canon” becomes staggeringly besides the point” (138).

Gates, Henry L., Jr. “Pluralism and Its Discontens.” Profession 2012. Boston: Modern Language Asspociation, 2012. 135-42. Print.

We’ve got bigger problems.

-Katie Owens

Most of the time, I think people start arguments because they have nothing better to do. Or because they love the sound of their own voice and they think that because they hold a certain opinion, it is the opinion that everyone else should have.

You think gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to get married? Cool.

You think Madison looks ridiculous in that sweater? Awesome.

You think only the American and British classics deserve to be taught in literature classes? Delightful.

I don’t care.

Agree to disagree.

The second people start devoting large chunks of their personal time crying, “CRISIS. WE HAVE A CRISIS!” about anything that isn’t a life or death situation, part of me wants to roll my eyes and part of me wants to slap them upside the head.
I am not arguing against change in the humanities. I think I am all for it. But I also think there are more important things to worry about than what we’re reading. In Henry Louis Gates Jr’s “Pluralism and Its Discontents,” he talks about the bigger problems that face our education systems. “Because the truth is,” he says, “that curricular changes in history or literature are irrelevant is a kid doesn’t know how to read or write or add.” These are problems worth spending time worrying about. Go out there are teach people the basics and then they will be informed enough to make decisions for themselves. Gates continues on in saying that “the only way to transcend those divisions… is through education that seeks to comprehend the diversity of human culture.” I feel as though, as an English major, I know more about the world than I ever would have if I had, God forbid, studied math. I have been given the opportunity to learn about the history of the world, as well as contemporary understanding of cultures, people, and events around the world.
Another point that Gates makes that I feel is important to understanding what it is that we should be experiencing in university is when he uses the metaphor of comparing education to traveling. In this section he says that if we must have decided on who we truly are when we reach the outside world, then while in school, we must be everyone possible. I find this to resound quite well with what I believe about an English education. I have traveled to the Congo, Tintern Abbey, and high school classrooms in Maine. I have been teenage boys, a dying cancer patient, and a knight in shining armor. All without ever leaving the LAC.
More or less, I think that people need to calm down. Let us read whatever we want. Mix it up. Give us a bit of everything. Because that’s what life is going to give us.