From Victor Davis Hanson, The Death of the Humanities, at Defining Ideas.


A final irony was that classical liberal education—despite the fashionable critique that it had never been disinterested—for a century was largely apolitical. Odysseus was critiqued as everyman, not an American CEO, a proto-Christian saint, or the caricature of white patriarchal privilege. Instead Homer made students of all races and classes and both genders think twice about the contradictions of the human experience: which is the greatest danger to civilization, the Lala land of the comfortable Lotus Eaters, or the brutal pre-polis savagery of the tribal Cyclopes? Telemachus was incidentally white, rich, and male, but essentially a youthful everyman coming of age, with all the angst and insecurities that will either overwhelm the inexperienced and lead to perpetual adolescence, or must be conquered on the path to adulthood. Odysseus towers among his lesser conniving and squabbling crewmen—but why then does his curiosity and audacity ensure that all his crewmen who hitch their star to the great man end up dead?

In the zero-sum game of the college curricula, what was crowded out over the last half-century was often the very sort of instruction that had once made employers take a risk in hiring a liberal arts major. Humanities students were more likely to craft good prose. They were trained to be inductive rather than deductive in their reasoning, possessed an appreciation of language and art, and knew the referents of the past well enough to put contemporary events into some sort of larger abstract context. In short, they were often considered ideal prospects as future captains of business, law, medicine, or engineering.

Not now. The world beyond the campus has learned that college students know how and why to take a political position but not how to defend it through logic and example. If employers are turned off by a lack of real knowledge, they are even more so when it is accompanied by zealousness. Ignorance and arrogance are a fatal combination.

When the humanities failed to make the case that its students were trained to be exceptionally good writers, logical debaters, and well informed about the events, people, literature and issues of the past, then the liberal arts no longer were granted immunity from the general reckoning that the university now faces. Colleges charge too much and provide too little quality education; they exploit students and part-time faculty to serve a much smaller tenured and administrative elite; and they no longer believe in enriching society as much as radically changing it according to their own partisan visions.