How to Save the Humanities

 

 

I have well educated friends, I have well educated educators, and they will tell me, “Anthony, the Humanities are dying.”

I have given my life to writing, especially poetry. To this day, I have no idea if I am any good at it. I have tons of people tell me I am very good. I have a few people who tell I am the best poet they have ever read. When I was younger, I thought my mother bribed kids into liking me. I have no evidence of it, but as I knew I can be very brash and “in your face” and most of the people I know really seem to like me.

My mother is dead, so I am pretty sure she isn’t bribing anyone anymore. But I still have no idea how or why anyone likes me or what I write, but I do know a few things.

I love teachers. Teachers are the hope for all future generations. Having said that, teachers are the problem. Teachers and administrators and all those who would “save” the humanities. With rare exception, the more academic a liberal arts/English major is, the more they think it is not just important, but critical to “hold the line” to stop the corruption of the language, the misspelling, the bad grammar, the texting that passes for communication. They live to find and correct a their/there/they’re. They seem to think their great purpose in life is to make sure an inverted “ie” doesn’t pass the threshold.

I have dear friends who suffer from this. They cannot see they are working to shutter the doors of the Humanities departments faster than all the know-nothings in the world.

I understand that one must exercise care with punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar to improve clarity to help make the process of turning thoughts into the symbols of thoughts that are words. But, too often, almost always, it seems to me, the process gets inverted.

Language, communication, English, especially as it is the only language I know inside and out is not to be guarded like the eternal flame. It is a growing, exploding, dying rebirthing and ever-changing series of sounds and marks on paper (or in the digital ether). You may have dedicated 40 years of your life to the cause of helping make English all it can be for as many people as possible. This can be a good thing, but you must realize, you do not own the language, you have no right to state that the conventions that you and other academics currently hold to be correct have any bearing on the actual language. To do so is to find a pre homo sapiens skull and insist the current human brain must conform to it.

What is true today is gone tomorrow. Just as Shakespeare destroyed and rebuilt English in a way we now honor, the street kid speaking Spanglish or young Black girl speaking Black English is rebuilding our language into what it will be tomorrow after you and I are both dead and forgotten. To quote one of my (and probably your) favorite pop-song philosophers:

Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

 

Until we tear down the walls that keep people out, the walls of grammar and spelling and punctuation, we can expect more and more of the skeletal halls to be shuttered or repurposed as Business Sciences Departments. So if you truly care about humanities, I hope you will “heed the call.” I hope you will join me to fling wide open the doors of academia to those who have something to say, to those who want to learn, but who are not willing or able to measure up to the classism of “proper English.”

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