Notes from academia: required reading

I have a little ritual of browsing the university bookstore at the beginning of each semester to see if I find anything interesting in the required readings.  I have sadly decided that this will be my last semester doing this; it’s gotten too depressing.

The first thing I notice this spring is how few required textbooks there are.  I don’t know if students are doing less reading than before (standards are plummeting everywhere), or if it’s just that more reading is being done online via services like Perusall.  I myself find astronomy textbooks so horribly written that I’ve decided I might as well save the students money and let them read whatever dreck is on Perusall.  There are subjects, though, where one must go to the primary sources:  literature, philosophy, history.  These too are sparser than they used to be, but there are still enough books to paint a clear and dismal picture.

Browsing the English books, which–a tiny blessing–are still mostly fiction and only minority theory, I was dismayed to find that ABSOLUTELY NONE of them were what one would ordinarily regard as being among the classics.  Indeed, as far as I noticed, NONE of the books were written before the mid-twentieth century.  Of course, there was plenty of race-and-sexuality bilge, but the most striking lack of diversity was chronological.  In fairness, I saw that there was one class in the “Humanities” department that had students read The Trial of Socrates (the least interesting thing Plato wrote) and Oedipus Rex.

Wokeness has almost completely conquered and replaced history.  It’s all race-and-sexuality demonology, with the exception (that I saw) of a generic American history text and a course on ancient warfare (which included a biography of Alexander the Great and a book on the Roman legions).

Unless these students are reading real literature and real history on their own, WSU is now turning out complete barbarians who have been totally deprived of their heritage.

No, I will not go back there again.

9 thoughts on “Notes from academia: required reading

  1. My daughter is now reading Hamlet in school and the Aeneid is on the menu for my son this semester, but these exceptions prove the rule. My children’s formal education has included almost no classical literature, apparently to make way for slave narratives and holocaust memoirs.

    I gave up textbooks years ago. Students didn’t read them and I could not blame them. I now give them primary sources that I have annotated and abridged. I’m not sure students read these things either and maybe I should not blame them for that.

    My son. a college sophomore, registered for a class on Eastern Europe in the hope of better understanding current events. On the first day the professor announced that the class would focus on GLBTQ issues in Eastern Europe. The university is often a parody of itself.

  2. One of the advantages of a classical education is that there is no “canon”

    Porson once remarked that it was the burning of the Alexandrian library that made classical scholarship possible.

    Thus, when I was at university in the 1960s, the syllabus for Honour Moderations was “Greek and Latin Literature, excluding the Fathers and the Jurists.” Anyone with a good grounding in the languages can read the whole of classical literature in three or four years.

      • When I was at school in England, some 60 years ago now, I was taught Classics by masters who were fascinated by Greek and Latin grammar, syntax, prosody and vocabulary. For them one text was more worthy of study than another only insofar as it yielded more rare inflections, to be noted, recorded and memorised. If they believed that any ancient author had said anything worth saying, they kept their opinion to themselves.

        I remember we were made to memorise a Sapphic stanza (an Aeolic verse form of four lines), solely to illustrate its prosody.

        I remember it today:

        Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα
        καὶ Πληίαδες• μέσαι δὲ
        νύκτες, παρὰ δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα•
        ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

        The moon is set
        and the Pleiades; Middle of
        the night, time passes by,
        I lie alone.

        It was only over time that I came to realise it was quite the most beautiful short poem I have ever read and preserved by chance by ancient grammarians, to illustrate the metrical form.

  3. This kind of thing is definitely concerning. One of the benefits of books with a different perspective is that we can see that the way things are now isn’t the only way they could be. And what’s more, while it is easy to imagine something different, who knows how that would actually work. But writings from the past tell us about the details and how they fit together.
    This complete split from and almost inability to imagine the past is fairly recent, I would say that it really started around the end of the first decade of the 2000’s or the beginning of the second decade.
    I see that there are several WSU’s, one of which has 13 campuses, but it may be better not to mention that.

  4. >standards are plummeting everywhere

    They have been for a while. Unpopular opinion: reading books in your native language should not merit a degree. That should be normal outside academia. A physics degree has a value because physicists need to learn the language of math, which is hard to learn. Conversely, for a philosophy degree to have value, reading philosophers in at least one foreign (or dead) language should be required. Ideally two. As Cervantes said, reading a translation is like examining the reverse side of a tapestry. Serious academics should not be reading translations.

  5. I thank my young self who forty years ago rejected even the possibility of an academic career out of hand. Even then it was, to me, the son of a distinguished scholar of the old school and a university executive during the good old days of the 1950s, a pale, unscholarly place where life was avoided and pseudo-intellectualism reigned supreme, with few exceptions.


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