Ivy League English Professor Stunned After Watching New Students Struggle with High School Work
Oh, the humanities.
In a delicious twist of irony, The New Yorker magazine penned an essay on plummeting enrollment in the humanities — only to have a tucked-away little nugget of information explain away, perhaps, a big chunk of it.
The article, titled “The End of the English Major,” was written by Nathan Heller and explored why, exactly, “enrollment in the humanities is in free fall at colleges around the country.”
The piece is as fanciful and wordy as one would expect from The New Yorker in 2023, but it does explore a space that should be of some interest to everyone — not just college-loving liberal elites.
Because even conservatives should want to take a peek under the hood of this issue, given how institutional colleges have been when its come to the larger leftist indoctrination of the country.
Heller paints a dreary picture for fans of the humanities, citing data that found massive losses in humanities majors across the country.
“[F]rom 2012 to 2020 the number of graduated humanities majors at Ohio State’s main campus fell by 46 percent,” Heller wrote. “Tufts lost nearly 50 percent of its humanities majors, and Boston University lost 42. Notre Dame ended up with half as many as it started with, while SUNY Albany lost almost three-quarters.
“Vassar and Bates — standard-bearing liberal-arts colleges — saw their numbers of humanities majors fall by nearly half. In 2018, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point briefly considered eliminating thirteen majors, including English, history, and philosophy, for want of pupils.”
Heller added that, overall, humanities enrollment in the United States had fallen by 17 percent in the last decade. In that same time span, the study of English and history at the college level plummeted by a full third.
It’s all very bleak stuff if you’re enamored with the liberal arts.
But it’s not exactly the rosiest picture being painted for more pragmatic folks either.
Because later on in that New Yorker piece, Heller recounts a conversation with Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Education (and an English professor) Amanda Claybaugh that’s a rather damning statement on the state of Americans.
“Young people are very, very concerned about the ethics of representation, of cultural interaction — all these kinds of things that, actually, we think about a lot!” Claybaugh told Heller.
Well, that’s not exactly a huge surprise for anyone who’s been paying attention to the state of the younger generation.
Here’s the sad part though: “The last time I taught ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ I discovered that my students were really struggling to understand the sentences as sentences — like, having trouble identifying the subject and the verb.”
Yes, Harvard undergraduates — presumably some of the best and brightest minds this country has to offer — could not identify subjects and verbs.
Sure, this critique is largely within the context of not being able to decipher older written works, but it makes the criticism no less embarrassing.
“Their capacities are different, and the nineteenth century is a long time ago,” is not quite the excuse that Claybaugh may think it is.
Things like simple subject and verb identification are basic building blocks of language. And while “The Scarlet Letter” certainly wouldn’t be called a breezy or simple read by many, it’s still something that has been routinely taught at the high school level.
The rest of that essay tries to explain away why there appears to be this gaping chasm in basic knowledge, when really it’s pretty simple: Young students are wasting time learning about rather useless stuff in school, like the “danger” of Christianity or being bombarded by perversion — when they’re not outright fearing for their general well-being — instead of anything important or classical.
As to why that enrollment keeps dropping? Again, simple explanation: Would you want a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing in this economy?
Didn’t think so.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.