Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Dog Star

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Sometimes I find it very discouraging that the seasons just keep going around and around the way they do. You get used to one of them and the next one shows up. You settle into one schedule and then you have to rip your biological clock into shreds for the next.

It’s the end of August, and that means school is about to start up again. Due to a late scheduling change–a good one, one I was really happy to see happen–I suddenly find myself with three early mornings instead of one, and I’m running around like a chicken trying to get up Blackboard sites up and running on time.

Even though we know that Blackboard sites don’t really want to be up and running at all, and there has been yet another update to the system.

But getting all this stuff done this morning has made me think about all this again, and I’d like to stress the part I don’t usually talk about this morning.

I’ve never been the kind of libertarian whose attitude amounts to “privatize everything, the government is Satan.”

My main objection to the welfare state has always been to the problem of mission creep and power overload–to the tendency of welfare state provisions to become the excuse for expanded government power grabs into matters of social control.

“We have to pay for it” has always been, and always will be, the preferred excuse for expanding government power into private life. 

But at the same time that always has, and always will be, and intractable problem, I sometimes find myself wishing that it wasn’t one, or at least wasn’t one that seems so damned insoluble.

I tend to be in favor of things like public parks, and public libraries, that are Just Kind of Neat Things To Have Around, and that seem to me to be things communities should be able to provide for themselves without engaging in a death march to totalitarian micromanagement.

And yes, I do realize that we don’t seem to be able to avoid the death march thing. 

I still wish we could find a way to supply these things without it.

One of those things I wish we could find a way to supply in something we do supply near in the State of Connecticut–courses and training and performances in the fine arts.

To get a little more specific here:  Connecticut community colleges offers courses in painting, sculpture, dance (yes, dance), music, theater, you name it, and also provides theaters, galleries and concert halls for student and faculty performances and exhibitions.

I’m sure that there are plenty of you out there ready to tell me that I have already said, many times, that these are not proper academic subjects.

And I agree with myself.  They’re not.

But the fact that they aren’t proper academic subjects doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be offered for instruction, or that they shouldn’t be available for public viewing and performance, if there is a demand for that in the community at large.

As far as I can tell, there is an enormous demand for all that in this particular community.  Our fine arts courses are the most heavily subscribed of any courses we offer, far more heavily subscribed than even are basic-level certificate courses in various strictly vocational fields (think auto mechanic).

I think some of this has to do with the fact that there are a lot of alternatives to getting your community college certificate in Medical Billing Procedures or Paralegal Services.  Not only are there private universities in the area that offer the same sorts of things, but there are also lots of for-profit tech schools, online universities, and on the job training at local businesses.

But part of the reason for the popularity of these courses and venues has to be that the taste for the fine arts is considered to be a minority one, and it’s also considered, by many of the town Boards of Education, to be a trivial one.

This is Connecticut, so the first thing we cut in a school budget crunch is sports, but the second thing we cut is definitely the arts.

And although there are private universities with arts programs, the good and extensive ones (think Yale) are both expensive and hard to get into, and the weaker ones are sketchy and  just as expensive.

I live in a place where pockets of rural poverty and bigger parts of small-city urban depression mean that the money really, really, really matters.

But it is not, of course, just the poor who use these programs.  If it was, they probably wouldn’t exist for long.

Lots of middle class–and even upper middle class–students use these programs.  They learn to play Bach and Mozart.  They mount exhibitions of painting and sculpture.  They stage productions of Shakespear and Gilbert and Sullivan and their own student or faculty plays.

They have a very good time. They rack up virtually nothing in student loan debt.   Lots of people show up for performances and exhibitions. 

And everybody seems to be happy.

I wondered for a while why the state legislature went along with all this.  It’s expensive to maintain a professional-standard musical theater facility, never mind what the tab for all those plastic arts materials must look like.

I’ve decided that the programs are benefiting from the one way in which they are distinctly differen from the rest of the public university system.

They’re completely and utterly non politicized.

I don’t mean they haven’t been politicized by the politicians, although they haven’t been.

I mean they don’t seem to have been politicized by their faculties.  They programs aren’t turning out endless statements about the centrality to everything of gender, race and class. They’re aren’t refusing to teach Scarlatti or Beethoven because they were Dead White Males. 

They’re just doing what they do, and people who love it come in droves.

Looking around me at the world I live in, I’m not sure it would even be possible to reach this state of affairs in the other departments and programs of the university.

I do think there’s a chance that something like this is going on in the departments that award those vocational certificates, but thosecertificates are bedrock practical in a way the fine arts are not.

I do know that the fine arts programs seem to me to be a very good deal for my tax money, and I know that I’m not alone.

I wonder if the people who run the other divisions of our system every wonder about the fact that nobody in Hartford is every screaming and yelling about defunding the Fundamentals of the Orchestra course or why, if students are so relentlessly vocational they can’t see the point in the lieral arts, nobody has to require any of these arts courses in order to see them fill right up.

In my experience, people rarely ask questions they don’t think they already have the answers to, somebody out there ought to try to answer this one.

While any English course not specifically required for graduation has trouble getting enough students to run,and any literature course is a no go from the start; while philosophy runs only because WesConn will take it as a distribution requirement (and only the one course runs); while professors of everything and pundits on the right and left and posters to blogs like this one declare that you have to be a trust fund baby to go in for all that stuff that’s useless in the job market–

Here we are, with classes crammed to the gills with students who want to learn things they know will only serve them in their private lives, and to learn things with difficulty levels exponentially higher than anything they will ever be asked to do in their “rigorous” academic subjects.

You’d think somebody, somewhere, would pay attention.

Written by janeh

August 27th, 2013 at 11:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Dog Star'

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  1. If the “trust fund poster” was aimed at me, I’ll stand by that. I’m tired of reading articles about the people who majored in something which couldn’t possibly pay off financially and now object to paying back the money they borrowed to do it. I can love a luxury car, too: that doesn’t mean I should borrow a quarter-million to by one when I have no way to pay the money back and ask the taxpayers to cosign the loan.

    But, yes, I agree. There is a huge love of and respect for the fine arts when they’re separated from politics. The local “continuing education” in Fort Wayne is largely focused on the fine arts, and there was something similar in northern Virginia. I haven’t checked attendance, but obviously it’s high enough to keep the programs running. The Allen County Public Library is first-rate. The parks are good too, and the only time there was serious fuss over the budget was when the Chief Librarian wanted to rebuild all 16 libraries at the same time.

    You’ll notice that now the National Endowment for the Arts has stopped going out of its way to offend the taxpayers, people have pretty well stopped trying to kill it.

    For that matter, I go to wargame conventions and find lectures on historical events and regular classes on painting and crafting terrain. None of this makes anyone any money, and it won’t win them any games. They satisfy an intellectual itch, or an urge for beauty.

    I think it might be a very interesting experiment to offer an evening or weekend course on Shakespeare–or Homer, or Tolkien–for non-majors with no politics and a minimum of jargon: just talk about how a book is structured, what the author was trying to say, and why he chose that particular way to say it. And I used to look for the sort of Philosophy course that would concern itself with the sources of knowledge and with logical thinking.

    But never found it. And I don’t know where you’d look for the instructors.


    27 Aug 13 at 4:25 pm

  2. “I mean they don’t seem to have been politicized by their faculties. They programs aren’t turning out endless statements about the centrality to everything of gender, race and class. They’re aren’t refusing to teach Scarlatti or Beethoven because they were Dead White Males.”

    Why does Jane ignore Engineering, Math and the “hard sciences”? If those fields ignored Dead White Males, they wouldn’t be anything to teach!


    27 Aug 13 at 5:41 pm

  3. jd, let me suggest a mode of analysis, and then later Jane can tell me how very wrong I am.

    Forget how universities divide themselves into schools, and drop departments and courses into three piles; the factual, the emotional and the verbal.

    Engineering, math and the hard sciences are factual. The instructor’s knowledge matters, but his opinion doesn’t. If the chemical compound behaves as specified, the plane flies or the bridge holds the weight, the student is right regardless.

    Dance, sculpture, painting, ceramics and such are emotional. Oh, you can argue about dates of creation or artist, divide them into “schools” or “periods” and even associate them with some political cause–but these are not the point. These really are a matter of taste. I can enjoy David’s “Ossian’s Dream” without having the slightest sympathy for any of David’s politics or any approval of his personal life.

    Everything else–sociology, economics, philosophy, political science, all the grievance studies and, for that matter, theology–are the verbals. They’re concerned with how people live or ought to live. The arguments can NEVER be settled, but professors, departments or disciplines are capable of declaring answers right or wrong and Heaven help the student who disagrees.

    Jane is not concerned with factuals at all. She’s concerned with some of the verbals and wishes they’d stop being political and dogmatic.

    Borderline cases? Of course. History walks a line between factual and verbal. There are facts. The Battle of Bosworth was fought at one location and not another. There either was or was not a Romano-British commander named Artos or Artorius. Broad interpretations, if consistent with the facts, cannot contradict one another. Saying the American Civil War was fought between rising capitalism and a pre-modern agrarian system does not mean it can’t have been waged between a Celtic south and an English north. But the continual danger is that history will become one more branch of grievance studies.

    Literature walks the line between emotionals and verbals. I can read and enjoy Lovecraft while deeply disagreeing with his philosophy, or Elizabeth Peters while detesting her politics. But the danger here is also that appreciation of the art will turn into “endless statements about the centrality to everything of gender, race and class” and in large measure in universities this has already taken place.

    But if we could reverse this–consider literature as art, and consider our relations with one another without insisting on a single correct answer–we might not just fill the classrooms: we might just end up learning a few things.

    Now Jane can tell me how wrong I am. But I tried.


    27 Aug 13 at 8:01 pm

  4. Robert, that is an interesting analysis and I rather agree with it but will wait for Jane.

    Meanwhile, this may be of interest.



    27 Aug 13 at 8:25 pm

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