Colleges and universities are losing interest in literature, language and history but Americans are showing a "remarkable blossoming" of interest in cultural events, spending more money on them than on sports events, a government report says.
The report by Lynne V. Cheney, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, says the high cost of education may be causing more students to avoid liberal arts subjects in favor of courses that will give them a money-making career.While the number of bachelor's degrees awarded increased 88 percent in the past two decades, degrees in the humanities dropped 33 percent, said her report released Sunday. Foreign language majors were down 29 percent, English majors 33 percent, philosophy majors 35 percent and history majors 43 percent, it said.
The 73-page report ordered by Congress says too many colleges are neglecting the achievements of Western culture while requiring ethnic courses, treating literary masterpieces as political documents, stressing publishing rather than teaching, and dealing in topics so specialized that they have little meaning outside the academic world.
The report says museums, libraries, educational TV stations, state humanities councils and private historical societies provide so much education that they have become "a kind of parallel school," reaching millions of people outside college campuses.
"The remarkable blossoming of the humanities in the public sphere is one of the least noted, though most important, cultural developments of the last few decades," writes Cheney.
The $140 million endowment she has headed since May 1986 provides grants to scholars, colleges, museums, libraries and other institutions to promote the humanities.
Citing a variety of sources, the report gives several examples of increased public interest in the humanities, including record high book sales, a doubling of the number of historical organizations in 20 years to nearly 10,000, and a 660 percent increase in visitors to the National Gallery of Art in Washington since 1957.
Americans who spent twice as much on sports events as on cultural endeavors 20 years ago are now spending more on culture - $3.4 billion compared with $3.1 billion for sports in 1986, said a news release accompanying the report. It gave no details on how the figures were obtained or what cultural events were included.
The report says that while some have argued that television is the enemy of books, people are actually both watching television and reading, with book sales up 400 percent since television was rare 40 years ago.
Mrs. Cheney credits television with increasing the sale of some books which have been the basis for popular dramas or subjects of discussion on educational television shows.
In assessing the academic approach to the humanities, the report says: "Viewing humanities texts as though they were primarily political documents is the most noticeable trend in academic study of the humanities today. Truth and beauty and excellence are regarded as irrelevant; questions of intellectual aesthetic quality, dismissed."
The report says Western tradition is rich and creative, but many colleges are abandoning courses that teach it.