I am grateful to the organizing committee for thinking about me and inviting me to deliver a guest lecture on distinctiveness of Humanities and social sciences in higher technical education. I feel rather uneasy and highly septic, as I stand here with no pretensions of a high-brow professor or specialist whose discourse goes overhead. I speak to you as a practicing teacher of English language skills, especially for science and technology, and Indian English writing, especially poetry, with interest in what concerns us in the Humanities division, which, unfortunately, enjoys little academic respect in the over-all scheme of things in almost every technical institution.
Maybe, a conference like this augurs well for friends in the department of Humanities & Social Sciences, as they seek to explore interdisciplinarity, which indeed expands the scope of teaching and research. But I must provide a perspective to my several remarks that ensue from my reflections on the quality of intellectual activity in most technical institutions vis-a-vis the negligible support for scholarship in the Humanities, perhaps with the belief that the humanities are not 'real subjects' or that these have no bearing on learning of technical subjects, or these bring no demonstrable economic benefit.
The discipline has declined more perceptibly with, to quote Nannerl O. Keohane, "the creation of increasingly specialized disciplines and rewards for faculty members for advancing knowledge in those areas." We have a marginalized status in technical institutions even if we may have been playing a crucial role as teachers of languages and letters. I don't want to dwell on them here. But, we should be aware of the ground reality.
Yes, study in humanities is not always a matter of communicating 'new findings' or proposing a 'new theory'. It is rather 'cultivating understanding' or thinking critically about some profound questions of human life; it is often the expression of the deepened understanding, which some individual has acquired, through reading, discussion and reflection, on a topic which has been 'known' for a long time. To me, practices in arts and humanities elevate consciousness, refine susceptibilities in various directions, create deeper awareness, and enable us to respond critically and independently to the 'brave new world' we live in. Arts and humanities alone can help us to explore what it means to be human, and sustain "the heart and soul of our civilization." Perhaps, it's the usefulness of humanities which is acknowledged by inviting me to speak to a distinguished audience like this.
I intend to divide my brief into two parts: I would reflect on technical institutions as schools of higher learning; and then, I would say something about the business of English language teaching, which is my prime professional concern. Yet, much will remain unsaid, for I am aware of the controversies I may be raising.
I strongly feel most university level technical institutions in India, like the general ones, have failed in promoting or upholding healthy intellectual attitudes and values, and academic culture and tradition, expected of a university, just as, it's painful for me to observe, the culture has been virtually dismal in the case of studies in arts and humanities in the last four decades. The dullness and sameness has marginalized both creative and critical performance, or the standards handed down to us have become obsolete, or we have fallen into an abyss of unbecoming elitism, or we have become used to a cornucopia of pleasures formerly denied us: I won't comment. But an opportunity, such as this, is necessarily not to offer any authoritative judgments but to reflect on, or to provide insights into, issues that concern intellectuals at the top of university teaching hierarchy. Should I say 'non-university'? for I fear most of the faculty do not want to move beyond the parochial confines of narrow exclusivity. It's the age of specialization they say, and discourage diversity, tolerance and inclusivity: they do not strive for intellectual mobility and change of attitude; we, as seniors, too, have not tried to reach out, or explore!
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