Paradise Threatened: Crises in the Humanities Classroom

By Frances Cruickshank.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The shift in academic institutions from conservative humanism to a more radical humanitarianism has also been a shift – in many cases – from endorsing and embodying political agendas for education to occupying an oppositional and defensive cultural space. Yet universities still provide, and increasingly only provide, the channel through which state-educated children become members of a state-supporting labour force; a channel regarded with suspicion by those obliged to fund it, but posing no real threat within such an entrenched economic hegemony. Teaching Milton to eighteen-year-olds, most of whom will eventually work in schools or government departments, I’m conscious of a gap between the potentially empowering and transformative nature of these texts and their superfluity or containment within an education geared towards commercial and vocational outcomes. This gap might be called a crisis: of rationale, of methodology, of epistemology. Yet this crisis forces me to think not of dire trends in student brain activity, nor of the grimly probable erosion of literary study altogether, but of what our obligations as humanities educators are, given that we are still relatively free, still (however grudgingly) subsidised. This paper explores methodological and teleogical issues in teaching practice, and asks questions about how to shape a humanities degree within the constraints and expectations of a broader social program. Do we have an obligation to produce national and global citizens, after three years of ‘delight with liberty’ to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s? Or do we have a greater obligation to intellectual and aesthetic history, to teach a canon of exemplary thinkers, visionaries, radicals? If, as Geertz notably said, humans are simply cultural artifacts, perhaps it becomes the responsibility of humanities teachers to curate those artifacts, to ensure, paradoxically, that what survives this cultural moment – with all its thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers – is recognisably human.

Keywords: Teaching, Learning, Milton, Classroom, Politics, Commercialisation

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.33-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 485.754KB).

Dr Frances Cruickshank

Lecturer in English Literature, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Frances Cruickshank teaches in Early Modern Literature and Shakespeare at the University of Queensland, Australia. Her research interests include early modern women's writing, poetry and poetics in the Renaissance, and nature writing in Eastern and Christian traditions. She has published articles on George Herbert and John Donne, and is currently working on a book on their critical and rhetorical discourses.

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