Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mark Edmundson's The ideal English Major

After I got back from Korea I was stationed for a while at 29 Palms.  Back in those days they didn’t have air conditioning, only things called “Swamp Coolers.”  In the shade outside my hut one day I looked at a thermometer that read 137 degrees.   I decided not to stay in the Marine Corps and began checking books out of the base library, “classics.”  I decided I wanted a “classical education” or something as close to it as I could get either by reading or by actually attending college.

Because I fired expert I was invited to become a rifle instructor at Camp Pendleton; which was a much better situation than anything at 29 Palms, but in the end decided to get out of the Marine Corps and go to college.  And there I encountered something discussed in Edmondson’s article.  I was interested in History and Philosophy as well as English literature and poetry, but in the end majored in English as the closest I could come to obtaining a “Classical Education.”  I didn’t intend to be passive about it but to select electives that would foster my goal.  I wasn’t so much enamored of the teaching as I was the reading list I was building, books I would read after I graduated to further my education.  A few professors impressed me, but many did not.

A Classical Education two or three hundred years ago was supposed to equip a person to engage in any endeavor he desired. I believed that and demonstrated it by learning Engineering – not my first choice, but the best job available at the time I graduated. 

As time went on I heard from recent college graduates who came to work at Douglas and McDonnell Douglas, and read in articles & books especially The Closing of the American Mind that an English Major no longer enabled a student to think for himself.  Instead the student was indoctrinated with Leftist ideals.  But here in this article is Mark Edmundson presenting the English Major as what it was back when I was in school – as a major finer than anything in modern education.

Who is this Mark Edmundson?  He teaches in Virginia, the state from which most of the best Civil War generals came, and the state that fired Edgar Rice Burroughs to send a Virginia Cavalry Officer by the name of John Carter to Mars in his “Barsoom” series of novels.  I checked the internet and several scholars have disagreed with Edmundson for denigrating modern poetry. 

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