For those who have followed the problem with the attention it demands, both the nature and the scale of the crisis that has overtaken the study of the arts and the humanities in our universities have now been made vividly and painfully manifest. The subject has become a matter of (albeit muddied) debate in the media, it has won the attention of government agencies, it has produced some best-selling books, and—it is my impression, anyway—it has caused a more acute feeling of anxiety, at times amounting to panic, among the educated parents of high school- and college-age students than anything that has occurred in American life since the Vietnam war. (It is this widespread feeling of panic among educated parents that accounts, I believe, for the huge sales of such books as The Closing of the American Mind and Cultural Literacy.) Not even the fears generated by the onset of the sexual...


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