A School Abolishes the Humanities--And Our Culture Suffers


Ms. Solowiej is currently a freelance writer and English/History High School teacher for the tracer Unit, Queenland Board of Education. She is a Queensland University of Technology graduate.

Webster's defines culture as äcquaintance with and a taste in fine arts, humanities...."It is also enlightenment and excellence of taste aquired by intellectual and aesthetic TRAINING." But the English-speaking peoples live in an age of affluence and ease. Even our "work" s tends to be easy.

We've been numbed to believe everything should come easy--especially our culture. (Hence the all too common expression "I just want the peice of paper.") The Bachelor of Arts in Humanities is one of the hardest and distinguished degree's, despite what some may say, and it is also one of the most rewarding.

However, the attitude towards the study of Humanities has become lax and narrow-minded. Will the abolition of Humanities and Human Services lead us down the path to becoming a culturally inept people?

If it takes effort and education to appreciate and enjoy it, then it will probably move on to something easier--which usually means something of lesser quality. So true culture, by its very definition, DIES. A good example that recently took place is the axing of the Humanities and Human Services at one of our leading Australian Universities.

It has become a phenomemon in our society today. Television COULD help--making operas, new plays, historical information and documentaries etc. more accessible, but it has done just the opposite.

Now let's not point fingers. The truth is, we want it that way.

This age of affluence should allow us to enjoy the 'finer' things in life. To attend plays, concerts and art galleries, to establish a hearty classical music library in our home, to have time to enjoy fine literature. Instead, we go for what's easy. After all, why read a Shakesperian play or an 18th Century novel when we can pick the latest crime novel, chick literature or a magazine/paper delving into the lives of movie stars? (Or better yet, putting on a DVD?) Why read at ALL?

Part of the reason is that we simply don't know any better. So many are as wealthy as aristocrats, yet without the training in culture that goes along with being of noble blood. I remain mystified still and disappointed in standards such as basic dress alone. On a personal note, I believe teachers should dress professionally as respectable role models for our children, yet am often shocked at the lack of the dress standards within our schools. Am I expecting too much that teachers should have enough self respect to save their shorts, jeans and thongs for for the weekend and keep their pierced navels and tatts covered? What sort of role models are we to the younger generation?

But have we been educated to know the difference between fine and finer? What is excellence? What is taste? In modern education, the Humanities teaches us cultural literacy and history--to cultivate appreciation for the finest achievements of man’s literature, art, music.

We live in society--and here is the danger--even beyond culture--that puts less and less emphasis on HISTORY and more on the “now” on IMMEDIATE gratification. This makes appreciation for fine culture (which takes time and effort to develop) more difficult. In the process, we have become a society of cultural amnesiacs who don’t have time for anything but catchy tunes that don’t require more than three and a half minutes of our attention.

Speaking of music, that is another Art that the Humanities interweave with their subject matter. For example, the culture and music of the student uprising in 1968.

And that world view is passed on to those who take it, and begin to realize the more they learn, the less they know.... and how much more life is enriched when we take the opportunities to do so, whatever the subject. For example, having grown up listening to classical and various types of music, and knowing more now about the history of music theory and biographies, I thought I knew a fair amount. But ever since discussing the different composers, song-writer's and listening to songs etc. upon the advice of someone I hold in high regard, I've become so much more interested in additional information of the music world. This interest to learn is a trait that I believe BA graduate's have instinctively, always absorbing new information and critically analyzing/enquiring it. For example, the restoration of musical instruments from hundreds of years ago; and the design of the Era from which the composer/musician came from, as well as it's representation of that Era.

In times past, cultured individuals weren’t just the elite, the aristocrat. There was a time when operatic arias were the pop songs. If people couldn’t afford to attend concerts, they made their own--gathering around the piano, each child with an instrument, to play music for their evening entertainment. The masses were cultured because they were the culture!

Therefore, understanding art, theatre, literature, opera takes time, experience, education--and the study of humanities, enjoying study and critical thinking itself, provided that for so many at Queensland University of Technology. But, sadly today, we rarely slow down, appreciate, observe, relax. Such a lifestyle is marring not only to the high culture and excellence but to our entire perspective on the world, on significant history, on important issues, and even on our standards.

Another major modern weapon in destroying true culture is our popular culture...with certain predominant indecent characteristics--a culture that appeals to the very attributes that destroy high culture. We've come to embrace an overabundance of hedonistic and crude reality television shows...showing human nature at its lowest.

In addition, we are entertained by the scandel-ridden lives of our celebrities (ok, am guilty here). All of this is our "culture." How depressing. It is a subculture that has killed true culture--which should, for the main part, show humanity at its finest, most excellent physical and mental state of creativity and achievement.

Since the early part of the 20th Century, our New Morality has created a rebellious youth contingent--identifying with their desires and feeding an ever-growing generation gap, which has contributed to the fall of excellence in taste to the death of classical music and the scarcity of fine art and literature.

Because we have become a society glutted on popular entertainment, affluence and ease, culture is being nonchantly shoved aside; just as our vice-chancellor has done in his decision to abolish the Humanities and Human Services.

Because we've lost a proper perspective of time, history and education, culture is taking its dying breaths. Even if culture were the only victim, it would still be a remarkable tragedy in the annals of Western Civilization. But what's worse is that these ills that plague culture reveal deeper problems about our society and the disastrous direction it is headed.

Abolishing the Bachelor of Arts in Humanities and the Human Services at Queensland University of Technology is a symbol of the wrong direction in which we are headed.

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Nerida Onyx - 7/29/2008

For someone railing against the vulgar predilections of the great unwashed you make an awful lot of commonplace errors yourself.
I spotted two plural nouns that had those lax plebs’ misuse of the apostrophe - your “degree’s’’ should surely be “degrees” and your “BA graduate’s” should be “BA graduates”. And while I am at it, you need to use parallel structure in the sentence: “The Bachelor of Arts in Humanities is one of the hardest and distinguished degree's”. It should be “The Bachelor of Arts in Humanities is one of the hardest and MOST distinguished degrees.” This is because “hardest” is the superlative of “hard” and therefore “distinguished” should also use the superlative – there is no distinguishedest so the superlative takes “most”. A simple test is to ask yourself if you can say “The BA is one of the distinguished degrees” and still have the same meaning.
Also, Amy, verbs are modified by adverbs so your sentence: “We've been numbed to believe everything should come easy--especially our culture.” Should be “We’ve been numbed into believing everything should come EASILY”. Note “numbed to believe “ is an incorrect construction.
You claim to be Ms. Amy W… - you don’t need a full stop after Ms because it is not an abbreviation and, anyway, a full stop after an honorific is so last mid-century and not accepted Australian usage. (Granted, this could be the US site editor's mark up.)
Now to your spelling: I am sure you are from the Queensland Board of Education, not the Queenland Board of Education; BAs are “pieces of paper” not “peices”; “acquired” has a “c” before the “q”; and I’m sure culture is being shoved aside “nonchalantly” not “nonchantly”.
Amy, I suggest you get off your high horse and into some grammar and spelling books. Your badly written and poorly argued tirade does you, teachers and all BA holders a disservice.