what does it take to outread an ivy league english professor?

reading more than one book a month, apparently. i learned this and other interesting tidbits from a recent new yorker article that's been making the rounds lately, "the end of the english major", investigating declining enrollment in the humanities at american universities. the article is somewhat meandering and indecisive but contains a few juicy "behind the scenes" segments people have clipped and shared online, revealing briefly the Absolute Current State of english departments in some of the nation's (and arguably the world's) most prestigious educational institutions like the irreproachable Harvard University. for example, in the most memorable episode, a highly-decorated harvard humanities professor claims watching prestige television like "breaking bad" or "chernobyl" is comparable to literary study while sitting back and resting his feet on his desk. he fusses a bit with some silly putty and then, with perfect comedic timing, adds "better call saul" to his list.

it seems from the article that what's driving the decline in the humanities is that all the smart and motivated students are getting lured away to stem majors instead. the author interviews quite a few students who admit they like literature and writing, but instead opted to study something in stem. this is probably because they're smart enough to realize that getting into the humanities now is not a good play. these days college is so expensive that it's usually too risky to take chances pursuing degrees that aren't sought-for in the job market. it also doesn't help that rigor and standards in humanities departments have had to drop precipitously because to be a humanities student now you have to be thick-skulled or just naive enough to ignore the marching band waving red flags at the department entrance. according to the article, current harvard english students are having trouble reading something as basic as "the scarlet letter", and the extent of analysis/criticism from students is merely pointing out what parts of books are "problematic" which is about as difficult (and deep) as doing a word search.

a reason this article struck a bit of a chord with me is because it's one of the few times i've seen myself (somewhat) represented in media: you might think from my writings here that i'm studying literature or english or something, but in fact i'm one of those conniving book readers who betrayed the humanities by going for a stem major instead. i skip zoom lectures and phone in all my assignments so i can have more free time to read literature and i daresay i'm doing better at it than those in the ivy league who are actually majoring in it or even teaching it.

have i made the right choice? i can still remember the exact incident that confirmed i did and simultaneously cosmically blackpilled me on the current state of upper education in america as a whole because of how outrageous it was. i was required to take one upper-level class from the english department called "scientific and technical writing" which is still pretty much the only one i've ever taken. one of the assignments was to write a "process description" explaining how to do something (i did "setting up a minecraft server" and wasn't alone in that). then, when doing peer review, i got paired up with this guy who was straight-up functionally illiterate. his process description was on "how to roll a blunt" and it was one of the most horrifying things i've ever seen. words were twisted and tortured in such an excruciating manner that i could almost hear screams of suffering sentences from the screen. it was almost completely unsalvageable, there were more spelling and grammar mistakes than correct usage. most words looked like he just tried to spell them the way they sound, like someone just learning to write. almost the entire thing was underlined by the spelling/grammar checker and he didn't seem to have made use of the automatic spelling correction at all or even thought to himself "hmmm what is with all this underlining". then later, the instructor made him read a paragraph of something we were reading aloud and i nearly expired from cringe and secondhand embarrassment as he slowly stumbled his way along, actually sounding out words with more than two syllables the same way elementary school kids just learning to read do. but that's not even the worst part: after the peer review, i asked him what his major was, and do you know what he said? english. in his third year. after grades came out for that assignment, i looked at the grade distribution for it online, and the lowest score in the class was an 86. evidently something in universities is going SERIOUSLY wrong and i've been obsessed with figuring out what ever since.

do i lament the looming demise of the university humanities department? not particularly, in fact i may even go so far as to say good riddance. maybe they were worth saving back in the good old days like when old nabby was still kicking, but i think that the increasing institutional capture and bureaucratization of fields by universities is detrimental not just to the development of literature and arts, but even to science as well. once upon a time writers would come to their calling from diverse occupations and backgrounds, however now they're trying to funnel anyone with interest or talent into the same rigid disconnected academic System for upwards of seven years before discharging them into another closed cut-off community (new york city). a lot of modern writing is boring because writers are all hanging out with the same people and doing the same things. to save literature, you must do anything but studying literature in college. for a primer, read "the savage detectives".