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Why Teach and Study EnglishBy Adam Gopnik


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#16 kfw

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 09:52 AM

It's timely that this appears now, at the start of school; I have to spend a good deal of time introducing students to the idea that we're going to think about literature and analyze texts--even, gasp, make arguments about them, not just rhapsodize about how much we love them. 
 

 

They can't just hit a Like button? Oy vey!



#17 pherank

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 12:44 PM

It's timely that this appears now, at the start of school; I have to spend a good deal of time introducing students to the idea that we're going to think about literature and analyze texts--even, gasp, make arguments about them, not just rhapsodize about how much we love them.

 

The subject is also timely because many graduates of the English/Humanities disciplines are currently in the news (we just don't know their names). That is because one of the larger employers of humanities graduates (especially post-graduate) is the Intelligence Community, and beyond that, the Foreign Diplomatic Corps. Of course it helps to know another language as well. But these ‘lucky’ employees are not being hired simply for their language skills, but also for their analytical abilities.

 

A good essay topic might involve the ethics of hiring students of the humanities into the intelligence community. And is it all bad? Well not when they avert some catastrophe on behalf of their nation - then the citizens tolerate them, but when the Intelligence community just looks to be part of the problem, then the citizenry get very angry. It's really hard to tell if the present day Intelligence Community, and Diplomatic Corps, are any more or less effective than their predecessors going back 3000 years.

 

My own mother (an Honors English major) and her good friend (an Honors Sociology major) were both approached by the NSA upon graduation. Her friend accepted.

 

So if English majors are wondering where they can find jobs – it helps to know what firms are involved in research, analysis and writing....



#18 Ray

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Posted 30 August 2013 - 02:39 AM

A line I did like very much in the essay was this:

 

"English departments democratize the practice of reading. When they do, they make the books of the past available to all. It’s a simple but potent act." 

 

As in our political democracy, however, it's not always certain that everyone wants to participate, as these studies make depressingly clear ("33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives" and
"42% of college graduates never read another book after college"). 



#19 bart

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Posted 31 August 2013 - 09:46 AM

phrank wrote:


My own mother (an Honors English major) and her good friend (an Honors Sociology major) were both approached by the NSA upon graduation. Her friend accepted.

 

I was an American studies major and was urged by a professor who had "connections in Washington" to apply for the Foreign Service.  My preliminary interview quickly disabused me of my fantasy that Foreign Service work would involve lots of socializing with artists and intellectuals in a place like Paris or London.  These were the early days of the Vietnam War, and I intuited that they were actually trolling for people to work in some sort of intelligence organization.  I did not pursue the matter further.

 

At the time, I was told that a benefit of a humanities-based education included such abilities as -- comprehending and using language/  analyzing and comparing texts/  asking questions and knowing how to research them/ learning new material efficiently/ and the ability to place texts of all sorts into a larger social and political contexts.  Pretty much everything I have done in life since those days has required and rewarded those abilities.  I'm, grateful to my high school and college teachers and curriculum-writers for having taken such things seriously.



#20 pherank

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Posted 31 August 2013 - 11:12 AM

At the time, I was told that a benefit of a humanities-based education included such abilities as -- comprehending and using language/  analyzing and comparing texts/  asking questions and knowing how to research them/ learning new material efficiently/ and the ability to place texts of all sorts into a larger social and political contexts.  Pretty much everything I have done in life since those days has required and rewarded those abilities.  I'm, grateful to my high school and college teachers and curriculum-writers for having taken such things seriously.

 

Amen to that, Bart. Something that I hear quite a lot these days with regard to training or education, is, "it was just a waste of my time/or money". Because it didn't lead to an obvious job or career path. I can't recall learning about ANYTHING that hasn't proven to be useful knowledge in some manner. There's obviously been a radical shift over the course of my (and our) lifetime regarding the role of education in society, and its value to the citizenry.

 

There was an excellent article relating to education and its effect on a society in the PBS program, The Chosen Few: A New Explanation of Jewish Success (Study by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein). The long and short of it: education good, no curiosity and illiteracy, bad.  ;)

 

A note from Paul Solman: Nine years ago, someone sent me an academic paper that put forward a radically new explanation of why Jews have been so successful economically. Written by economists Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, the paper explained Jewish success in terms of early literacy in the wake of Rome's destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the subsequent dispersion of Jews throughout the Roman empire - Jews who had to rely on their own rabbis and synagogues to sustain their religion instead of the high priests in Jerusalem.

 

You may know a similar story about the Protestant Reformation: the bypassing of the Catholic clergy and their Latin liturgy for actual reading of Scripture in native languages and the eventual material benefits of doing so. Why is Northern Europe -- Germany, Holland, England, Sweden -- so much more prosperous than Southern Europe: Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain? Why do the latter owe the former instead of the other way around? Might it have something to do with the Protestant legacy of the North, the Catholic legacy of the South?

 

http://www.pbs.org/n...-explanati.html



#21 bart

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Posted 01 September 2013 - 04:31 AM

The long and short of it: education good, no curiosity and illiteracy, bad.  ;)

That does seem to be the point, doesn't it? 
 
I'm wondering about a couple of things. 
 
First of all, the ideas summarized in your two quoted paragraphs are clearly oversimplifications.  In fact,
they seem to confirm some rather old stereotypes about the radical difference between Northern versus Southern European cultures, along with assertions of the superiority of the former over the latter..  
 
Also, as ballet lovers, shouldn't we be a bit on the side of the "liturgists"?.  Reading  can't tell us everything we need to know,  Nor can intellectual analysis.   Sometimes "doing" something in a serious, committed,  even sacred manner (either as ritual, or dance, or other performance art) is an equally profound way of accessing knowledge. 
 
Which suggests that an active education in the arts is something that ideally should go hand in hand with the kind of intellectual training that the writers of the article above are advocating.  Thinking in terms of  the paragraphs quoted above, we might think of this as a union of "Northern" and "Southern" European types, both of which are of great value to us as individuals and as culture.

#22 pherank

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Posted 01 September 2013 - 12:05 PM

I'm wondering about a couple of things. 

 
First of all, the ideas summarized in your two quoted paragraphs are clearly oversimplifications.  In fact,
they seem to confirm some rather old stereotypes about the radical difference between Northern versus Southern European cultures, along with assertions of the superiority of the former over the latter..  
 
Also, as ballet lovers, shouldn't we be a bit on the side of the "liturgists"?.  Reading  can't tell us everything we need to know,  Nor can intellectual analysis.   Sometimes "doing" something in a serious, committed,  even sacred manner (either as ritual, or dance, or other performance art) is an equally profound way of accessing knowledge. 
 
Which suggests that an active education in the arts is something that ideally should go hand in hand with the kind of intellectual training that the writers of the article above are advocating.  Thinking in terms of  the paragraphs quoted above, we might think of this as a union of "Northern" and "Southern" European types, both of which are of great value to us as individuals and as culture.

 

The Solman quote acts as the lead in the to the article, so I think it purposefully presents the reader with the popular sterotypes before presenting a new theory about Jews and economics.

 

"Shouldn't we be a bit on the side of the 'liturgists'?" Or as Balanchine once said, "Byzantine icons, dear."

That certainly makes some sense, though I personally try not to take 'sides' as that generally translates to being on a particular 'team' and wearing their uniform, talking the right talk. That's where all the problems start for me. Dancing as a non-book form of knowledge makes perfect sense: there's lots of stored information/memory involved, but it is not a worship of "the word" (which may be why religious sects often want to ban such activities). Dance does seem to be about activites of the body and mind that are beyond language, but I don't happen to see that as a danger to alphabetic language, jsut an expression of other aspects of the mind/body.




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