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Student Perspectives

English Department
277 Fenton Hall
State University of
New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY 14063
Ph: (716) 673-3125
Fax: (716) 673-4661

The Value of the Humanities: Student Perspectives

Graduate students in ENGL 520, Seminar on Literary Studies and the Profession, wanted to give their fellow students across campus (as well as faculty, professionals and community members) who plan to attend next week's Mary Louise White Symposium "Being Human: Taking the Humanities Beyond the Classroom" some "ways in" to thinking about the topics the symposium seeks to address. They have brainstormed for several weeks, collectively exchanging ideas, developing information about our keynote speakers, and composing annotations on texts that might be helpful in contemplating the themes the symposium raises. We hope you will share this with students, colleagues, and friends. What follows are comments they've composed as points of departure on how they hope to "take the humanities beyond the classroom"; these are intended to entice, stimulate thought, and generate initial engagement. [Jeanette McVicker]

As a student of the humanities, I have been told time and again -- in fact, my 11th-grade chemistry teacher said it just last week -- that I am going to lead a miserable and frustrating life. If this is true, my fate was decided many years ago when I discovered a passion for creativity in activities such as ballet, pastry arts, music, literature and writing. I find it hard to believe that I have been destined for misery since the age of five.... Nevertheless, while I may not get paid very well for what I do, I will live an engaged life. By this I mean that I will participate in my life, appreciate it, look at it critically. I will not allow life to simply happen to me. My education has changed me. It has opened my mind and made it so large that I am always starved for information. Life excites me and I want to share that excitement with everyone. Other disciplines never made me feel alive. My education in English and in literature has enriched me. I see beauty everywhere; I have an open mind and am still critical of incoming information. My education has overtaken me and affected every part of me, including the people around me. How many students can say that? [Erin Ackerman]

I think what is most interesting about studying the humanities is that it's essentially never-ending. It's a process where the more you attain, the more you learn... the more you learn, the more you're going to want to learn. If you think about it, "wanting to learn" is what is pounded into our heads as early as first grade. Remember back when you were beginning to learn how to read? Remember how exciting it was to go to the book fair and buy any book you wanted? Remember being able to read that whole book and then sharing it with your parents? I do! The development of a love for reading is essential to the overall development of the mind, if the ultimate goal of learning is to become more "human," and to benefit society rather than detach from it. While reading is not the only element that defines the humanities curriculum, it certainly is one of the most essential and should always be so. [Erynn Anderson]

The English graduate who takes the challenge of teaching young people in New York State must face the Board of Regents' attempt to objectify what is not objectifiable -- the students' human experience. The objective method of numerically scoring students' language arts and reading/writing skills is a safe attempt to quantify what is, finally, not measurable in such terms. The field of English helps us to remember that what is most meaningful and unique about students' discovery of learning doesn't require a numeric value. English, and the humanities broadly, enable us to see the importance of subjectivity. The humanities allow us to explore our differences as well as our similarities. [Katharine Felt]

The objectification takes shape on a broader scale in the university with the compartmentalization of different disciplines. Because of this separation of different forms of knowledge (sciences, humanities, etc.), people are allowed very limited experiences and ways of life. Being so focused on particular labors and goals is very apparent in a capitalist society such as ours, in which many of us come to college so we can get a degree that will get us a job in "the real world" (I hate this phrase). What we need to do is to open these areas of knowledge up to each other, integrate them through dialogue and action, so that people can engage in a wide variety of experiences, and be able to communicate them fully to others. [Tom Lajewski]

From a university administrator's perspective, putting more money into the business and economic departments may be appealing to the many students focused on "getting a good job" after graduation, but that alone is not enough. How can a student go into business without attention to ethical ideals, or the ability to critically analyze a document? Both are "skills" taught in the humanities. If a college is truly interested in turning out students for the workforce, then it must strive to give those students an integrated education that offers something from each discipline in a more synthesized manner. The humanities teach the individual how to work as an ambassador, linking different experiences and discourses together. Critical thinking, analysis, an understanding of the power of interpretation and recognition of history are at the heart of the humanities, within the classroom and outside of it. [Melissa DiMartino]

Issues outside of "scientific fact" confront humans constantly. The excitement generated by reading, the pleasure of aesthetic experience, are the "living" part of human life. In addition to the aesthetic experience, however, literature has a specific value. Literature provides examples of possibilities for thinking and questioning. These examples are not "objective lessons" for correct response or behavior, but approaches toward learning itself: how do I read this? how do I think about this? These questions, and thinking itself, are essentially based in language. Human confrontations with real events are addressed, negotiated, and decided through language...or through violence. [Jeff McConnell]

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Questions? E-mail:
MLW Symposium, Department of English
SUNY Fredonia - 277 Fenton Hall - Fredonia, NY 14063
Phone: (716) 673-3125 | Fax: (716) 673-4661

Page modified 12/7/15