The perceived weakness and disintegration of the American humanities education was the topic of discussion at the biannual honors symposium held Friday night.
Camille Paglia – a noted author, university professor of 30 years and controversial orator – spoke to an audience of approximately 90 students, teachers and guests Friday about her concerns with what she termed the faltering of the humanities department at the American university. She is a New York Times bestselling author; Foreign Policy magazine named her the 20th most influential public intellectual in a 2005 survey.
“The American higher education is a form of insanity,” Paglia said as the symposium commenced. She denounced humanities programs as a “scam.”
Her speech, in the Elliott School of International Affairs building, kicked off a weekend of events for the honors symposium. The honors program permits upperclassmen to attend the weekend-long symposium and write a paper on it in lieu of taking a semester-long honors class. Students in the program must take an honors class or one of its equivalents every semester.
Paglia fervently discussed her anger at the destruction of the “overarching” humanities education.
“We’ve entered a period of degenerate scholasticism,” she said in regards to apparent academic catastrophes including the elimination of introductory survey classes that require a broad knowledge of humanities-based history. She blamed American universities with a lack of such knowledge for consequently making humanities departments “an absolute joke” that produce not artistic scholarship but “snarkiness.”
However, Paglia does not solely blame the higher educational system for this phenomenon. She addressed what she said was the negative social revolution that has taught America’s younger generations to become generally disinterested toward art.
“American genius is now in high-tech,” she said in reference to what she called a “psychic death.” As this materialization of the American educational system continues, a lack of identity ensues in the undergraduate curriculum, she said.
“There is a terrible lack of ideological diversity,” Paglia said. “(There is) a resistance to an independent voice in the humanities.” Addressing the emptiness of humanistic secularity in universities, Paglia elaborated on the societal need to conform to a “gentile” style of teaching that apparently encompasses a monotone voice.
In the face of such failure on behalf of the American educational system, Paglia encouraged the students present to take their own education into their own hands. “You are responsible for your own education. The best education is self-education,” she said. In a world of “corrupt information,” Paglia vocalized her hope that a stronger, more appreciative love of the humanities would come from student initiative.
“Personal responsibility,” she said waving her fist in the air. “Think free.”