Phi Beta Cons

The Decline of College Reading

Among the many ways higher education’s standards have fallen is that students don’t have to do much serious reading any longer. In a new essay on Minding the Campus, Professor Daphne Patai ruminates on that.

She observes that what professors expect of their students has been decreasing at the same time “they must take ever greater pains to keep students amused and engaged.” Yes — that is what a high percentage of them have been conditioned to think. School should be kind of fun and certainly not very demanding.

What about assigned reading? “Long experience has taught me that students often don’t do the assigned readings, or do only part of them, or read on-line summaries of novels.” They just don’t want to devote the time to careful, mind-engaging reading.

Best of all, Patai takes aim at the way ideology gets in the way of reading these days. She refers to Elaine Marks, a feminist scholar who turned against the trend of making everything about race and sex. She writes, “Like (Harold) Bloom, she had come to lament students’ failure to respond to literature imaginatively, their habit of replacing knowledge of western culture with a ceaseless pursuit of signs of its villainy, and their inability to experience surprise and delight in a text. She was astonished … to discover herself applauding Bloom’s words, ‘To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all.’ But merely expressing such concerns, Marks complained, would stigmatize a scholar as a closet conservative and traitor.”

Read the whole thing.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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