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  #1  
Old 24 June 2013, 02:47 AM
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Teacher The Decline and Fall of the English Major

In the past few years, I’ve taught nonfiction writing to undergraduates and graduate students at Harvard, Yale, Bard, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/op...ish-major.html
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Old 24 June 2013, 03:38 AM
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So I got to:
Quote:
There is a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities. It suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring (though that doesn’t explain the current popularity of political science). Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply.
and thought "Finally! The author is going to arrive at a point and devote the rest of the article to supporting it with more than mere word smithery!" but, alas, I was to be disappointed.

The entire article can be summed up as "The humanities are important, so important that they, particularly English, should rank above all other majors, and I should know because I've spent a long time teaching them. Just take my word for it."
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  #3  
Old 24 June 2013, 03:51 AM
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Roll eyes

Things are rough all over. Try being in the arts -- or even math, for that matter.
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  #4  
Old 24 June 2013, 05:14 AM
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I always get a kick out of explaining to people how it is I have a BA in Math. Especially if they're a Naval Academy grad with the even more oxymoronic BS in English.

Just a musing.
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Old 24 June 2013, 05:15 AM
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Point #3 is probably true for all of higher education. The quality of teaching in Engineering is, for the most part, atrocious. A lot of students complain that it is because of the foreign-trained instructors or teaching assistants, but the language barrier is not the problem. The problem is instructors who have no training in how to teach, and in many cases, no desire to either teach or get better at teaching. It's viewed as a burden - a kind-of "forced labour" (like a serf working the lord's fields one day per week) - but it is a necessity. It came to the point where we'd rather have a professor with poor english skills, but who cared about teaching, than one who would merely bring the course textbook and rewrite it, almost verbatim, on the blackboard.

So for English professors, there's no argument to be made for the poor quality of education. They should be able to communicate effectively, and can probably improve their teaching skills more easily than where there is, perhaps, a language barrier. They should maybe make this a priority to improve and set an example to others - that may very well demonstrate the importance and value of the humanities...
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Old 24 June 2013, 01:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASL View Post
I always get a kick out of explaining to people how it is I have a BA in Math ...
In my alma mater, everyone who graduated with a bachelor's degree in the school of arts and sciences got a BA, even if you were a math or science major. The students in the school of engineering got BS's and the art students got BFA's.

Nick
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Old 24 June 2013, 03:21 PM
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My father has a BA in chemistry.
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Old 24 June 2013, 05:22 PM
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I've got an undergraduate degree in Physics, and it's technically an MA...
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  #9  
Old 24 June 2013, 07:15 PM
Dr. Dave Dr. Dave is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Theodorakis View Post
In my alma mater, everyone who graduated with a bachelor's degree in the school of arts and sciences got a BA, even if you were a math or science major. The students in the school of engineering got BS's.

Nick
I think that was true at mine also. Which leads to this:

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Originally Posted by Cervus View Post
My father has a BA in chemistry.
being true of my daughter's father as well.
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  #10  
Old 24 June 2013, 11:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Theodorakis View Post
In my alma mater, everyone who graduated with a bachelor's degree in the school of arts and sciences got a BA, even if you were a math or science major.
My school was similar. I have a BA in biology. I just had to talk with an California state tax auditor last week on research tax credits, who was grilling me on my education. She didn't seem to like this and kept coming back to it. Yes it's a real degree, and no it's not any less sciency than a BS degree. She also seemed not to have heard of my Ivy League university, so her tone made it seem like she'd caught me with a fake degree from a diploma mill. I do have an unconventional education for my career, but she didn't ask any questions that might allow me to explain my qualifications.
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  #11  
Old 27 June 2013, 08:19 PM
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On the topic of degree quirks:

My school considered their Psychology degree to be a science degree, but did not consider their psychology classes to be science classes. So it was a requirement to fill out your courses with a variety of "real" science classes: Bio, Chem, Geology, or Physics, totaling 16 hours. Theoretically, one could minor in a particular science and meet one's requirements that way, but this also increased the number of required hours, where as a minor in any other field only required 18 hours (notably, two less than the minimum required science hours).
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Old 27 June 2013, 10:12 PM
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It's common to split up science into subcategories like social science (psychology, economics), physical science (physics, inorganic chemistry), and life science (biology, biochemistry). Or to lump physical and life science into the broader category of natural science, as opposed to social science. Degree requirements often have to tick different boxes for social science than natural science. That's not to say that social sciences aren't science, but the methodology can be very different, so it's understandable if they want you to have some of both.

My biology degree required me to take a few social science courses (I took psychology and economics), as well as some courses from non-science categories. Breadth requirements aren't there to imply that one branch is superior to another. Although I will say that some of the social science programs are perceived as easier and less rigorous than equivalent natural science programs. Physics gets hairy real fast. For sociology, most of the rigor comes from the advanced statistical techniques, and you can generally skate by with a sociology degree without actually becoming an expert statistician. Statistics is a whole different major.

Last edited by Errata; 27 June 2013 at 10:20 PM.
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  #13  
Old 27 June 2013, 10:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASL View Post
So I got to:

and thought "Finally! The author is going to arrive at a point and devote the rest of the article to supporting it with more than mere word smithery!" but, alas, I was to be disappointed.

The entire article can be summed up as "The humanities are important, so important that they, particularly English, should rank above all other majors, and I should know because I've spent a long time teaching them. Just take my word for it."
The poor rhetorical and writing skills coming from an English professor kind of undercut the argument for studying the humanities, don't they?
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Old 29 June 2013, 04:23 PM
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The university I'm attending has a language requirement to receive a BA. So I'm dutifully taking French (and enjoying it!). People have asked me why I'm going that route to which I respond "I'm an Art major! Getting a BS in Art is just silly!" (Sadly we have no BFA program, though they're working to add one I hear. It will be after I'm done though.)

Gibbie
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  #15  
Old 29 June 2013, 06:12 PM
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My undergraduate program offered both a B.S. and a B.A. in Chemistry. The programs were substantially similar - both require the same number of credit hours, of which about 2/3 or 3/4 were the same - but the B.S. required additional STEM classes while the B.A. required more humanities. Particularly, the B.A. required a minor and several semesters of a foreign language.

The B.S. was an ACS certified program while the B.A. was not. FWIW, a few years ago I incorrectly thought ACS certification was a critical professional certification, like ABET is for an engineering grad like me, but I've learned it's really not that important.

Anyway, the idea is that people who want to work as chemists or go to graduate school as chemists should get the more focused (and more difficult) B.S. degree, giving them a deeper understanding of the field they intend to enter. Meanwhile, the people who want to apply their chemistry knowledge to other fields should get the less focused (and more flexible and broad) B.A. degree, giving them an understanding of the various non-chemistry fields they intend to enter. But since either degree covers the core of undergraduate chemistry, they ought to be pretty much interchangeable.
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Old 29 June 2013, 07:01 PM
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Regarding the OP, although I know Verlyn Klinkenborg is a highly regarded nonfiction writer and academic, I certainly would not know it from reading this article. I still don't know if it's bad writing or bad satire of bad writing. It's two or three paragraphs of an idea, stretched out into 15 paragraphs, mostly through meandering and muddy thought and painfully lengthy and pointless analogies.

I suppose what makes it particularly bad is that instead of taking a conversational tone in this piece, like a normal person would, he writes in this cold and stuffy academic manner. It's an opinion piece with an incredibly simple thesis that doesn't warrant such an objective voice, and by writing this way he only magnifies the simplicity of his thought.

It just comes across as the purple prose of a rank amateur. Or, perhaps, like someone who is so hyper-focused on one type of writing that he cannot adapt his voice to different types of work. Someone who would write a five-page long grocery list because he can't turn off the "literary criticism" switch and has to endlessly pontificate and analyze words even (or especially) when they don't actually contain the requisite depth of meaning.

But I'm a scientist so I suppose all this is unclear and indirect. (I'm trying very hard to not be inhumane, though.)
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  #17  
Old 30 June 2013, 04:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Esprise Me View Post
The poor rhetorical and writing skills coming from an English professor kind of undercut the argument for studying the humanities, don't they?
What really struck me, even more than how (poorly) he supported his position, was how he chose to frame the "problem." Referring to his own students:

Quote:
They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.
So, basically, he acknowledges up front that his students can write for the sake of making a coherent point just fine. I'd have been at least a little shocked if they couldn't given the list of schools he's taught at. I can only gather that what he is criticizing is precisely the sort of formulaic "strings of jargon" that I was taught to employ in high school and that served me well enough in college and beyond (in the few times since when I have had to make a point for a grade, that is): an opening paragraph with a thesis followed by a series of supporting paragraphs that speak to and support your thesis, themselves made up of an introduction that identifies in broad term what facet of the thesis the coming paragraph will address, followed by a series of "chunks" (I know, I know, so crude, so elementary!) that follow the general pattern of cite/evidence/quote/detail/etc. with a few sentences expounding on how that given piece of factual or primary source information supports the thesis and explanation/interpretation.

Perhaps such a simplistic writing style is beneath a learned man like Dr. Klinkenborg and when it came time to support his own opinion with actual facts/evidence, he made a conscious decision to NOT do so, because that is precisely the sort of “[un]clear, [in]direct, [in]humane” writing he is railing against? If so, it's kind of like he cut off his nose to spite his face... Far too elementary to use facts to make a case: much better to be humane and literary-minded (which I can only presume to be his preferred alternative to “literal-mindedness”).

If so, I wonder if he realized with some horror that his own disdain for such a formulaic writing style would ultimately deprive him of the opportunity to make a compelling argument against it?

Anyways, to continue the threadjack on BAs/BSs, my college had both a BA and a BS curriculum for Math. I chose the BA curriculum because it made best use of pre-existing credits and allowed me the flexibility to minor in Spanish without taking more than the required number of credits for degree completion. I had really wanted to be a History major and the BA curriculum allowed me to take more non-science electives (as oe might expect). Ultimately, I would have only needed 6 more credits of 200-level or higher science courses for the BS, but that would have meant not getting the minor in Spanish or taking extra courses and frankly it just wasn’t worth it: the courses would have been substantially less useful to me than the Spanish.

Last edited by ASL; 30 June 2013 at 04:44 AM.
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  #18  
Old 30 June 2013, 05:44 PM
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If the author of the article in the OP wants to step out of the Ivy League and do some missionary work I can think of the perfect place:

1,400 Radford University diplomas misspell "Virginia"

More misspellings found on Radford diplomas
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  #19  
Old 30 June 2013, 11:54 PM
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If they make the grads turn in the botched one, that would be such a dilemma for me. Keep it or give it back for one that's fixed? It wouldn't be a source of pride to see that the university you graduated from can't even spell but what a keepsake! Pride is overrated anyway. (Isn't it a sin too? Good excuse as any for not having any...) I think I'd have to keep the old one.

Oh, lordie, here we go with the comments. This one must be someone taking the piss:
Quote:
Engineering and Logistics positions at my company get about 10 to 20 resumes per week. The first ones in the "file 13" are the ones with spelling and or gramar errors.

We even had one that the candidate miss spelled his home address, then corrected it with a pen.
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