GAM and Bauerlein’s Claims

“GAM. NOUN—A social meeting of two (or more) Whale-ships, generally on a cruising-ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats’ crews; the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other.” (Moby-Dick, 198)

Welcome to the Dallas Institute Cowan Center’s North Texas Humanities Consortium Gam! It is our way of staying in community across the rough seas of education, talking about ideas of importance in “friendly and sociable contact.”

Mark Bauerlein’s most recent contribution to the attack on the humanities is our first jumping off point. These are the final paragraphs from his article called “The Slow and Steady Shrinkage of the Humanities” (3. 29.18 • In First Things).

“Humanities professors have forgotten the first principle of undergraduate study in the humanities: inspiration. Students come because the material compels them. They may love modern novels, or a high school teacher may have turned them on to Renaissance art or the Civil War. They want greatness and beauty and sublimity. Professors should tell students that they have on their syllabi the works of the ages. Why not play up the classics? Forget critical thinking, workplace readiness, and verbal skills. Highlight Hamlet, Elizabeth Bennet, and the Invisible Man. Reach out to freshmen with an invitation to the Pantheon of genius and talent. March in to college curriculum meetings and announce that everyone must take a course in Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Mozart. Take students to dinner and pass along your enthusiasm in a non-class setting.

That’s what it will take to reverse the slide, and I hope my colleagues realize it.”

He’s talking about college and university professors who teach warped or watered down (And the nautical puns keep coming!) curricula, but haven’t we done this, too? As he earlier decried, “how many students will say in earnest, ‘Hey, they teach critical thinking over there—that’s exciting—I’m in!’?”

So what strikes you about Bauerlein’s claims here?

Please leave a comment for a passing vessel to receive.

One thought on “GAM and Bauerlein’s Claims

  1. I think Bauerlein is right on the money, but I don’t necessarily blame the professors he is talking about. IF our very funding is contingent on justifying ourselves to the bureaucratic powers that be, THEN it really is tempting to talk about the utilitarian benefits of a humanities education. While I am blessed to work in a school that, by its mission and vision, understands the importance of a liberal arts education, I have had to deal with the “what’s the point of X?” from students and parents for a long time. I think Bauerlein is right that we can overcome some of this through enticement, but so long as the humanities at the higher levels (I think everyone gets the importance of learning to read and write) are understood to be a kind of luxury or extra, then we will continue to meet with the attitude of “I wish I could spend more time reading great literature, but I need to study engineering or medicine so I can get a good job.”

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