Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to fix the humanities (again)

Articles about how to reform humanities education have been coming out for probably thirty years now. This one from Slate is particularly scathing. But it does at least offer some concrete suggestions. The following struck me particularly: "They [humanities programs] should cultivate new ways for people with humanities sensibilities to build entrepreneurial projects outside of traditional academe, and make these alternative paths the norm, without shame."

When I first decided to leave academia, I attended an alternative career seminar on campus, the focus of which turned out to be entrepreneurship. "Just think of a need that's out there!" the seminar leader chirped. "Go on, you! What's a need you could fulfill?" I said something about looking for parking spaces for people, for which I was praised. I was in fact being sarcastic at a deep level that I rarely descend to. Suffice it to say I thought the seminar was beyond useless. People were talking about opening bakeries, for God's sake. What was that ten years' worth of critical theory for, again? Now I'm supposed to learn how to bake, and run a business besides?

But more than a decade has passed, and "entrepreneurship" seems to mean something different to me now. After all, I've become a freelancer. I do have my own business, and I like it a lot. I found a need and started filling it.

The thing is, lots of us humanists are square pegs to begin with. That's why we read and mope and moon about, and end up in grad school because we just can't see ourselves hammered into a cubicle for the rest of our lives. (Maybe I should have said we are round pegs, because cubicles are square...well, never mind. We are blobs, really: wherever we try to fit in, something squiggles out.) Anyway: for people like this, learning how to make a space for yourself really does seem valuable. What could a large, loose network of independent humanities "businesses" do for the nation?

The part about getting rid of the "shame" would also be key.

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