Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Decline of the English Department

A while ago, William M. Chace posted a piece up at The American called The Decline of the English Department.

Chace bemoans the sorry state of English departments across the land, as the number of undergraduates studying English has roughly halved over the past thirty years.

As a story addict, who would love nothing more than to wallow in books for the rest of my days, I feel for the guy.

But I have to say that the fellow has a real Pollyanna streak in him.
What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself.
I swear, I fell off my chair.

The decline is due to students not seeing the study of literature as a human good?

Charity is a human good, but that has never resulted in Humanitarian Aid programs becoming oversubscribed.

If anything, the root of the decline of English as a major is the failure of departments of English across the country to show undergraduates how the study of English can make them filthy, stinking rich.

Or at least very well off.

It's not like 1 in 5 students go into the study of business because they find Johnson & Johnson and GE case studies to be enthralling, life changing experiences. They take business because they hope that, some fine day, they can whiz by in an S Series Mercedes, splashing mud from the previous evening's rainstorm all over the hunched line of English majors sitting on the sidewalk, panhandling for enough change to buy themselves a bite to eat.

It's about not having to choose between Royale and No Name Brand toilet paper, preferring instead to use hand stitched rolls of $100 dollar bills.

As Ice Cube says, "It's all about the Benjamins."

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