Essays On The Dead Poets Society
The film is of no help as we try to find our way out of our current standoff—and to the degree that it unconsciously stands in for humanities pedagogy and scholarship, it does real damage.
I believe, in particular, that there are two fundamental problems with allowing this sentimentalized version of the humanities to serve as our model for what it means to be deeply and passionately engaged in the study of music, art, language and literature, history, philosophy, religion—of human culture. Though few will say so publicly, there are those with a stake in the debate that resist granting a greater role in contemporary higher-ed curricula to the humanities.
For what Keating (Robin Williams) models for his students isn’t literary criticism, or analysis, or even study. That’s how I was taught, in high school especially. And we’re meant to learn, over the course of that poem, that he’s wrong—that he’s both congratulating and kidding himself.
He chooses his road ostensibly because “it was grassy and wanted wear”; but this description is contradicted in the very next lines—“Though as for that, the passing there / Had worn them really about the same,” and—more incredibly still—“both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” He wants to claim to have taken the exceptional road, if not the spiritual high road; but he knows on some level that it’s a hollow boast.
When they resist, it’s often the sentimental humanities that they’re resisting: the conception that the humanities, as a group of disciplines, is more about feeling than thinking.
”); “In the Humanities, How Should We Define ‘Decline’?
After each has experienced this “small alteration in [his] local position” (Emerson), he steps or leaps off the desk, as if a lemming off a cliff: Keating’s warning, “Don’t just walk off the edge like lemmings!
,” unfortunately only serves to underscore the horrible irony of this unintended dramatic metaphor.
But while avoiding the pitfalls of dull pedagogy, Keating doesn’t finally give his students anything in its place besides a kind of vague enthusiasm. Mc Allister’s students are declining Latin——has a great deal, I believe, to tell us about the current conversation concerning the “crisis in the humanities.”Certainly it has been an interesting few years for humanists.
Since the economic downturn of 2008, enrollments in humanities courses across the country have declined; at the same time—the flip-side of the coin—colleges and universities are seeing a sharp increase in students majoring in those disciplines which, rightly or wrongly, are thought to ensure better employment prospects at the conclusion of one’s studies.