Teaching Humanities in New Ways-And Teaching New Humanities

By Wagner, Mark | The Humanist, May-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Teaching Humanities in New Ways-And Teaching New Humanities


Wagner, Mark, The Humanist


At Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, where I teach, our faculty are part of a generation of scholars, writers, and teachers now living out the dream of tenure. And it is a dream--of job security and freedom of speech and pen. In some ways the tenured professors aging gracefully in our classrooms are the first generation in the United States to do so in the style they do. Many have both their primary homes and a second house on the coast. They enjoy social standing and good salaries. In short, many are in positions where it would be obscene to complain--and still they do.

What do we complain about? Mostly, the tenured ones complain about students who are unable to learn and how things have changed. Why are students listening more to consumer culture than their professors? Why won't they read?

There are two main reasons why there is a widening gap between the aging faculty and the contemporary students: one is biological and one is technological. As far as biology is concerned, since the American high school or common school was founded in 1890 the average age of physical maturity has dropped an average of three to four months per decade. Students who entered high school in 1860 were by and large unable to conceive or bear children. Today most students entering high school have this capability.

Leon Botstien has done a fine job researching this in his 1997 book Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture. Children entering high school are physically adult. They seek adult knowledge and, regardless how their families or schools treat them, they are biologically driven to gain that adult knowledge--primarily about sex but also about such adult concerns as violence, money, knowledge, power, and death. What is the result? The students consume knowledge from popular culture. They buy the knowledge they feel they need and aren't getting in school.

The effect of this on our lives in the colleges and universities is profound. For one thing, the students have been taught that their teachers won't tell them what they need to know. And they in turn have trained themselves to get knowledge--good, bad, and ugly--from video, television, film, music, advertisements, and the like. Coming to us, the students who used to know something of William Butler Yeats' The Second Coming are more inclined to bust a rhyme about "gettin" jiggy with it."

There is another reason why our students are speaking a different language than their professors: the natures of learning and cognition, and the design of knowledge, have changed. Students learn more readily from the filmic design of the screen than they do from text, and it's more a matter of form than content. According to R. R. Hassin, J. S. Uleman, and J. A. Bargh in The New Unconscious (2005):

   Our senses can handle about 11 million
   bits per second (Zimmerman 1989; see
   Norretranders, 1998, for a detailed
   analysis). This whopping number is
   largely the result of our sophisticated
   visual system, which can handle about
   10 million bits per second. The processing
   capacity of consciousness pales in
   comparison. The exact number of bits
   consciousness can process depends on
   the task. When we read silently, we
   process about maximum of 45 bits per
   second (a few words); when we read
   aloud, it drops to 30. When we calculate
   (e.g., when we multiply two numbers),
   we can handle only 12 bits per second.
   Compared to our total capacity, these
   numbers are incredibly small.

Colleges and universities are admitting what we might call multiliterate students--students literate in many media. This new multiliterate student clashes with the reality of schools in the West where, until recently, it has been regarded as self-evident that the road to education lay through books.

In The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education, an introduction to the Great Books of the Western World series of 1952, Robert M. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Teaching Humanities in New Ways-And Teaching New Humanities
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.