Questionable Motives

October 1, 2009

The decline of the English Department

Filed under: Culture,Literature,Science — tildeb @ 2:03 pm

University and college enrollment figures:

English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent
Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent
History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent
Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent

Studying English taught us how to write and think better, and to make articulate many of the inchoate impulses and confusions of our post-adolescent minds. We began to see, as we had not before, how such books could shape and refine our thinking. We began to understand why generations of people coming before us had kept them in libraries and bookstores and in classes such as ours. There was, we got to know, a tradition, a historical culture, that had been assembled around these books. Shakespeare had indeed made a difference—to people before us, now to us, and forever to the language of English-speaking people.

At stake are the books themselves and what they can mean to the young. Yes, it is just a literary tradition. That’s all. But without such traditions, civil societies have no compass to guide them.

Read the entire article here.

If, as the earlier post indicates, our second chromosome contains the genetic makeup for understanding metaphor, and the main source of metaphor is literature, then the declining enrollment and reduction of English departments and staff carries with it a profound cost to the kind of wisdom explored within these texts that is a necessary foundation for learning how to pursue happiness – the enlightened kind. That is the compass, encoded within our genes and brought forth into action through understanding metaphor, without which we lose something fundamentally important to liberty and democracy.

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