Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Critical Importance of the Humanities

It's with some disappointment that I read Patrica Cohen's article in the New York Times on Wednesday regarding the value of a humanties education. I was not at all upset with her subject matter -- now more than ever the humanities field must justify its value and place in American education. That has always been the case, and I believe constantly having to prove our worth makes us more passionate, focused, and ardent about the work. What I found most disturbing about Ms. Cohen's article is her conclusion:

"As money tightens, the humanities may increasingly return to being what they were at the beginning of the last century, when only a minuscule portion of the population attended college: namely, the province of the wealthy.

That may be unfortunate but inevitable, Mr. Kronman said. The essence of a humanities education — reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming “to grips with the question of what living is for” — may become “a great luxury that many cannot afford.”

I find this conclusion upsetting for several reasons:

1.) I was a humanities major, and most certainly was not from a walthy family. Not even close. My humanities education, my ability to reason, communicate, and evaluate lessons from history, have been critical to my success. To say that it is the province of the wealthy (otherwise known as not valuable unless you have the luxury to sit around all day thinking, not acting) is just ridiculous.

2.) In this country to say that any area of study might need to be undertaken only by the wealthy is wholly un-American. The whole point of education is to open up possibilities to people, regardless of background, to pursue their greatest passions and interests.

3.) What kind of society would we be without the study of history, literature, languages, and art? They are not separate from engineering and science. They are partners. The beauty of an education in the humanities is that it arms us with tools and resources to draw meaning from the experience of our lives and the lives of others. Without that unders
tanding and ability to communicate shared experience, what kind of society would we become? The humanities give us hope -- and without hope, all the science in the world won't be able to save us.

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