The Suicide of the Liberal Arts

Achillles-slay-Hector

Indoctrinating students isn’t the same as teaching them. Homer and Shakespeare have much to tell us about how to think and how to live.

John Agresto writes: I was a few minutes early for class. Father Alexander, my high-school sophomore-homeroom teacher, was standing outside the room, cigarette in his mouth, leaning on the doorjamb. “Morning, Father.”

His response was to put his arm across the door. “Agresto,” he said, “I have a question I’ve been thinking about and maybe you can help me.”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Do you think a person in this day and age can be called well educated who’s never read the ‘Iliad’?” I hadn’t read the “Iliad,” and am not even sure I had heard of it. “Hmmm. Maybe, I don’t see why not. Maybe if he knows other really good stuff . . .” His response was swift. “OK, Agresto, that proves it. You’re even a bigger damn fool than I thought you were.”

I grew up in a fairly poor Brooklyn family that didn’t think that much about education. My father was a day laborer in construction—pouring cement, mostly. He thought I should work on the docks. Start by running sandwiches for the guys, he told me. Join the union. Work your way up. There’s good money on the docks. And you’ll always have a job. He had nothing against school, except that if bad times came, working the docks was safer.

I also grew up in a house almost without books. All I remember is an encyclopedia we got from coupons at the grocery store and a set of the “Book of Knowledge” from my cousin Judy. Once in a while I’d head over to the public library and borrow something—a book on tropical fish, a stamp catalog, a book by someone called Levi on pigeons. It never dawned on me to look at what else there was. Who read that stuff anyway?

So now I’m a professor and former university president who grew up without much real childhood reading until eighth grade, two or three years before the “Iliad” question. Sister Mary Gerald asked me one day if I read outside of class. I told her about the pigeon book and the stamp catalog. No, she asked, had I ever read any literature?

Whereupon she pulled out something called “Penrod and Sam,” by a guy named Booth Tarkington. She said I should read it. I did. I can’t say that “Penrod and Sam” is great literature, but it changed a small bit of my neighborhood. Penrod had a club. So my friends and I put together a club. Penrod’s club had a flag; we had a flag. Penrod would climb trees and spy on the surroundings. We had to be content with climbing on cyclone fences.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Who would have thought there was a new way of having adventures, learned from a book? A book, by the way, of things that had never happened. Something had pierced the predictable regularity of everyday street life. And that something was a work of someone’s imagination.

So I started to read, and with the appetite of a man who finally realized he was hungry. I became a reader of fairly passionate likes and dislikes. Dickens was fine, though he could have gotten to the point sooner. O. Henry, Stevenson and later Tolkien, Lewis, Swift. Read the rest of this entry »


HISTORY June 29, 1613: ‘Oh Sorrow, Pittifull Sorrow’ The Globe Theater Burns Down

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The Globe Theater, where most of Shakespeare’s plays debuted, burned down on this day in 1613.

The Globe was built by Shakespeare’s acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in 1599 from the timbers ofLondon’s very first permanent theater, Burbage’s Theater, built in 1576. frts-richard-ii-q2-1598-1Before James Burbage built his theater, plays and dramatic performances were ad hoc affairs, performed on street corners and in the yards of inns. However, the Common Council of London, in 1574, started licensing theatrical pieces performed in inn yards within the city limits. To escape the restriction, actor James Burbage built his own theater on land he leased outside the city limits. When Burbage’s lease ran out, the Lord Chamberlain’s men moved the timbers to a new location and created the Globe. Like other theaters of its time, the Globe was a round wooden structure with a stage at one end, and covered balconies for the gentry. The galleries could seat about 1,000 people, with room for another 2,000 “groundlings,” who could stand on the ground around the stage.

globe-illus

The Lord Chamberlain’s men built Blackfriars theater in 1608, a smaller theater that seated about 700 people, to use in winter when the open-air Globe wasn’t practical.

June 29, 2012, at theshakespeareblog.com, Sylvia Morris writes:

The remains must still have been smoking when the amusing ballad A Sonnett upon the pittiful burneinge of the Globe Playhouse in London was printed the next day. It consists of eight verses, each one ending with the refrain punning on the alternative title for Henry VIII, “All is true”.  “Oh sorrow, pittifull sorrow, and yet all this is true”. Here are two verses:

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No shower his raine did there downe force
In all that Sunn-shine weather
To save that great renowned howse;
Nor thou, O ale-house, neither.
Had itt begunne belowe, sans doubte,
Their wives for feare had pissed itt out.
Oh sorrow, pittifull sorrow, and yet all this is true.

 Bee warned, yow stage-strutters all,
Least yow again be catched,
And such a burneing doe befall,
As to them whose howse was thatched;
Forbeare your whoreing, breeding biles,
And laye up that expence for tiles.
Oh sorrow, pittifull sorrow, and yet all this is true.

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[VIDEO] Obama’s ‘Assault on the Dictionary’

President Obama has “never been interested in lowering the deficit,” Charles Krauthammer said on Special Report. “It contradicts the reason he ran for president: It’s to change a lot of things in society, to give people stuff like health care.”

“On this idea of austerity…we’ve talked about Obama’s assaulting the Constitution…”

“…this is an assault on the dictionary.”

Stay tuned for the President’s upcoming assault on The American Heritage Roget’s Thesaurus, The Bible (King James Version), the The World Encyclopedia of Comics (Volume 1)and the The Complete Works of Shakespeare

Obama ran a $4 trillion deficit in three years, Krauthammer explained…

“the deficit that he now touts as the triumph of austerity is the highest, higher than any deficit in the history of the country preceding him.”

[Check out Charles’ Bestselling book Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics” at Amazon]

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Heather Mac Donald: Don’t listen to today’s narcissistic academics—the West’s cultural inheritance is indispensable

Rabelais’s Gargantua (overlooking Paris) exulted in the possession of classical learning.

Rabelais’s Gargantua (overlooking Paris) exulted in the possession of classical learning.               THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NYC

The Humanities and Us 

Heather Mac Donald writes:  In 2011, the University of California at Los Angeles decimated its English major. Such a development may seem insignificant, compared with, say, the federal takeover of health care. It is not. What happened at UCLA is part of a momentous shift in our culture that bears on our relationship to the past—and to civilization itself.

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton—the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements and replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing. In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”

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