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Once we were mighty. Once we were legion. Once we reigned over colleges and universities like demigods. Well, OK, we English majors were never that important, except maybe in our own eyes. According to a report in the New York Times, degrees awarded in English at American universities fell from seven point six percent of the total in 1971 to three point one percent of the total in 2011 — which goes to show, I suppose, that the golden age was never quite so golden. Still, better the periphery than where we are now — the periphery of the periphery.

One of the less-happy consequences of my decision to major in English 40 years ago is that I haven’t met many (or any) people who share my enthusiasm for the writings of John Dryden. Another is that I make about as much money as a janitor and live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I knew what I signed up for. My life sentence as an English major has taught me not to care overly much about what are laughingly called “the good things in life.” For better or worse, I can’t look at the glossy advertisements in The New Yorker without a feeling of cognitive dissonance. How could anyone who reads the poems and short stories and criticism in that magazine really want all that crap? If that’s a prejudice, the fault lies in me, not in my discipline, which includes plenty of practitioners with a somewhat more realistic financial outlook than my own. Anyway, for me, it’s less a discipline than a passion. I expect that that beleaguered three point one percent on campuses today feel much the same way. Against the advice of their parents, the social pressure of their peers, and the severely utilitarian direction of American society, they obdurately go on piling up their useless, unremunerative literary courses. See the trouble you get into when you listen to your soul? More… “English Majors’ Twilight”

Stephen Akey is the author of two memoirs, College and Library, and of essays in The New Republic, Open Letters Monthly, and The Millions.
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As a teacher of first-year writing since 1987, I have learned to share my passions with students. Sharing what really matters to you can lead to deep learning, but it can also involve emotional risk.

In a class that focuses on using research, writing, and re-writing to think about the connections between literary texts and our lives, I have chosen a theme I think about a lot: Deception. We read short stories in which characters deceive or are deceived. How many of these stories do you recognize? More… “Magic Class”

Fred Siegel teaches in the English and Philosophy Department at Drexel University. His writings have appeared in The Drama Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Kugelmass, When Falls the Coliseum, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He also performs magic shows in a variety of venues, and plays the role of “Fred” in the autobiographical performance, Man of Mystery. A copy of his doctoral dissertation, The Vaudeville Magic Act, 1880-1932, mysteriously appeared on eBay recently. He has lied for money in the Coney Island Sideshow (1989-90), and has been logging his dreams since 1993. He also does improvised performances with Comedysportz Philadelphia and Tongue & Groove. To read more, go to his Geekadelphia Profile.
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Each section of this piece is accompanied by song. Press play and crank it.

I stumbled out of the wormhole that was the first few weeks of freshman year and landed at a new member meeting for WKDU, Drexel’s student-run college radio station. A few dozen freshmen, overconfident in their music taste, gathered in an appropriately dingy meeting room. The guy directing the meeting had a pink sticker on his laptop that bore a faux Nike swoosh, underscored by the word “cunt.”

The (impossibly cool) DJs walked us through the basics: what they do, what the training process is like, what it means to be part of WKDU, and their longstanding policy of no top 40 music — from ever, forever. A group in the back sporting t-shirts of some such bands wrinkled their noses and pulled out their iPhones. I leaned in.

More… “Sound Salvation”

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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Stanford University is embroiled in a debate over Western Civ courses — again. In the 1980’s, Stanford was at the epicenter of the collision between older great books curricula and new-fangled identity politics, a clash which featured the Reverend Jesse Jackson joining protesters in chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture’s got to go!” (referring to a course, not a civilization). After a generation in which the life of the mind on campus has been divided between leftist identity politics and technocratic social science in economics departments and business schools, old-fashioned liberal humanism is being championed again by the Stanford Review. The student magazine has launched a petition to restore mandatory courses in “Western Civilization” for all Stanford undergrads. More… “From Plato to Palo Alto”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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From Mad Men and White Collar to Dirty Jobs and Grey’s Anatomy, TV may tell us a lot about how we view our work — and, moreover, how we should. For some, it’s just a job, but for others, it’s a life calling. Maybe we can learn more about our professions by staying on the couch than we can by joining the workforce. (Aeon)

Ad blockers are gaining popularity, maybe because they can save mobile users more than just the headaches caused by strobe-like video ads. A new report by the New York Times shows that, depending on the ratio of advertising to content, blockers can shave seconds off loading times and cents off data bills for each page. (The New York Times)

There’s a constant battle to explain why the rising price of a college education seems to raise demand, defying the usual models. There’s a term for this — a Veblen good — and it’s got mostly to do with the price of prestige. (The Baffler)

Is it time for “he” and “she” to go the way of “Miss” and “Mrs.”? Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin argues that gender, like marital status, should not be brought up in journalistic stories unless pertinent. Here’s a historical and political case for the singular “they.” (In These Times)

Looking for something to read this weekend? Sink into some science. (Seed Magazine) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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I just started a new graduate program in a new city and I’m feeling lonely. I don’t have anything in common with my colleagues. I started a semester later and most of them are good friends by now. – J

 

The fact that you are in the same graduate program in the same school as your colleagues shows that you all have more in common than you realize right now, but I understand: Entering a program in the spring can make you seem like the odd man (or woman?) out. From my experience, graduate students are pretty eager to see a new face in their classes, so once you get over your fear and start opening up, you’ll realize that you have quite a bit in common with them. By sharing more jokes, hobbies, and stories of turbulent youth,… More…