Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Scholar of Zombies: The Disturbing Move Against Education

There have been several news articles lately about the University of Baltimore professor, Arnold Blumberg, who is offering a high-level college course on zombies. The course, English 333, will introduce students to a variety of zombie artifacts, including books and film. The final project will allow students the opportunity to write their own zombie-themed script, or draw storyboards for a zombie film of their own making. This news story has, of course, received a great deal of commentary, primarily pejorative in nature. Commenters mock the seemingly valueless subject matter, the institutions that would dare offer such courses, and the lazy students who take courses about trivial matters like zombies and pop culture. Needless to say, the negative press surrounding U of Baltimore’s new class irritates me, and not just because I’m a zombie lover at heart.

I admit I’m one of those people who love school. If I could make a successful career of being a professional student, I would. I enjoy learning and I’ve never believed that the act of learning had to be boring. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great subject snobbery in our culture, even among those who do not themselves attend class. Math, science, and history are revered as worthwhile subjects, and receive no argument from me, but communication, popular culture, media, and the arts are, all too often, relegated to an inferior status. It’s as if “real” students take the classic, core curriculum classes, and the students who can’t quite hack it take the easy courses that -- shock and horror -- focus on trite and trivial matters like current fiction and social media. I find this type of sentiment appalling.

I won’t get into the full history of the study of communication, which reaches back to Plato and Aristotle and their study of rhetoric in ancient Greece. The more modern applications of the communications field, like social media and even zombie films, are no less worthwhile simply because they are more recent. A course text does not need to be written by a long-dead white man in order for the course to be legitimate. What makes a class in calculus more worthwhile than a class in cinema? Let me ask it this way; which subject matter is the average American more likely encounter in adult life?

My argument is that the pursuit of knowledge is admirable, whether the pursuer is working to become a doctor, a chef, a biochemist, a film critic, an auto mechanic, or just a more informed citizen. The disdain for certain subjects bothers me; the disdain for certain students bothers me even more. A person is not rendered more or less intrinsically valuable based on their interests and pursuits, and yet the negative press surrounding courses such Blumberg’s suggests just that. It insinuates that certain subjects are worthless, and the students taking them are, at best, too lazy to engage in "worthwhile" endeavors.

In the last decade, it seems our great country has embraced a prideful state of willful ignorance. Somehow, commonsense and education have become mutually exclusive. This is a disturbing phenomenon. Why is it that so many feel entitled to raise their nose at college courses and those who take them, regardless of subject matter? Where did the division of school and the “real world” come into play? There are not multiple worlds, just this one, and in it some people enter the workforce immediately, while others start a family of their own, while still others go on to institutions of higher learning. Some people engage in two or even all three at once. The important thing to remember is that any and all of the options are viable life choices, and all exist in the real world.

So, I salute Arnold Blumberg and the University of Baltimore for offering a course in zombies. By understanding popular culture and the reoccuring fears that saturate it (like the fear of zombies), we learn more about ourselves and the time in which we live. I hope more courses like this one become available to students across the country. There is absolutely no reason why learning can't popular and fun.


  1. Great article and thanks so much for sharing it. I agree that we need to rethink what is valuable. Learning is valuable in itself. No snobbery here.

    I left college with a BA in Politics and took a class in British pop music while doing a semester in England. :) - that course did come across for credit. I think it was valuable to see the different sections of culture. Understanding people is important...not just the history facts. Let us get some joy out of our lives! In the end it's the student who ends up paying for the class or not.

  2. If a film studies or lit studies course is relevant, then a course about a specific TYPE of film and/or lit is relevant. Aka zombies :).

  3. Tammie - I couldn't agree more. I'm sure that British Pop class didn't detrach from your BA in politics, and was fun to boot. Each class is what the student makes of it.

    Jody - Exactly!

    Thank you both for commenting. Just after I posting I had a momentary panic of "oh, this may be too ranty to post." Thank you for reading and commenting :)