Knowing One’s Place

I found Justin Stover’s essay on the role of the humanities in higher education at The Chronicle of Higher Education very interesting. Here’s a snippet:

The reality is that the humanities have always been about courtoisie, a constellation of interests, tastes, and prejudices that marks one as a member of a particular class. That class does not have to be imagined solely in economic terms. Indeed, the humanities have sometimes done a good job of producing a class with some socioeconomic diversity. But it is a class nonetheless. Roman boys (of a certain social background) labored under the rod of the grammaticus because their parents wanted to initiate them into the community of Virgil readers — a community that spanned much of the vast Roman world, and which gave the bureaucratic class a certain cohesion it otherwise lacked. In the Middle Ages, reading Virgil, commenting on Aristotle, participating in quaestiones disputatae, writing chansons de geste and romances — these set apart scholars — bachelors, masters, and doctors alike — as an international community.

In that context the humanities would be the method by which the “creative class” inculcates in its young the “interests, tastes, and prejudices” of its members. That evokes two questions.

First, what are those “interests, tastes, and prejudices”? Second, is that something that should be paid for out of the public purse?

My general reaction is that there’s an app for that. It sounds to me as though higher education is in desperate need of radical reconsideration.

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