RIP, Humanities?

Ashley Bloemhof- Editor in Chief

In his book “Why Read?” author Mark Edmundson reacts to a reality that began to pervade our generation right about the time that the iPhone 4 first came out: students are zombies in the classroom.

And we could care less.

For many students, there is no fire in their bellies, no deep-rooted desire to be pressed beyond their comfort zones, unless by doing so they may achieve a sort of higher knowledge that will meet a future need. Today, if one is to seek out understanding, such knowledge must be able to improve that person in such a way that he or she becomes more efficient and better able to navigate the world of employment. It is for this reason that so many freshmen loathe Dordt’s core classes, and why many seniors still whine about the irrelevance of these courses’ content. “This has absolutely nothing to do with my major,” they’ll say, or “I could be taking another X class and learn more about Y, but instead I have to sit there and listen to so-and-so talk about…”

Now, not being personally interested in becoming a connoisseur of the art world, nor being a major history buff, nor being completely ignorant in terms of how to treat a swollen ankle (R.I.C.E., R.I.C.E. baby…), I can somewhat understand the frustrations of my peers.

But my sympathies often run short.

Students at Dordt College often fail to remember that they are attending school that largely resembles a liberal arts institution, and that this place of learning requires its students to stretch themselves beyond the bounds of their chosen majors. Yes, electrical engineering majors have to take Core 180 Responding to Literature and English majors have to learn about the anatomy of the human body. Here at Dordt, we as students are asked to use different areas of our brains and pushed to better ourselves through exposure to different areas of study that, if we only let them, could broaden our understanding of God’s goodness as He reveals Himself to us ‘in all things.’ Yet, many students cringe at the thought of registering for another Core class.

Why is this?

I offer you the following theory: the world, modern-day society, tells us what information to accept and neglect based on its ‘usefulness.’ Similarly, culture tells us that it’s just not worth putting all the effort into something that wouldn’t leave you with any tangible skills, so abandon honest effort and simply get through the class. So, for you biology majors who have to write vignettes for Core 120, the world might convince you to perform well enough to pass the class but not to worry about actually furthering yourself as a writer. Besides, you’ll be making plenty of money in a few years and likely won’t be asked to write a literary analysis or personal narrative on a regular basis.

Such is the type of mindset that continues to pervade the college campus.

As a result, when a cultural mindset that is zeroed in on efficiency becomes the norm, the first area of study to face the guillotine is the arts. Who needs thoughtful literature when there is money waiting to be made on Wall Street? Why waste your time composing a fluid piece of poetry when the ivory buildings of our nation’s capital promise power to those willing to endure misery in exchange for an office on the hill? Sadly, I don’t believe many in our generation are, at large, interested in being formed by literature of old because we are instead consistently ‘updating’ and improving ourselves so we may keep up with the ever-changing culture of ‘new’: new ideas, new business practices, new ways to keep our bodies from showing the signs of decay. As Edmundson argues, instead of viewing classic “intellectual works as confrontation” between ourselves and the author, between our daily lives and the opportunity to grow ourselves simply for the sake of improving our outlook on life, our generation seems to prefer to conform to modern culture’s gospel of post modernity. Don’t make us discuss Shakespearian themes or personally interact with a text. Just give us the answers we need to become the best teachers or nurses or environmentalists we can be, and don’t bother us with those classes that seek to make us the best Sarahs or Sams we can be.

We don’t have time for that. We have a world to change, so don’t ask us to change ourselves.

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