The Value of the Humanities in this time
Posted March 5, 2009on:
It seems like you can't watch the news, especially in academia, without someone making some negative statement about the humanities. It's the usual drivel of "what do the humanities contribute that is practical?" Well besides teaching you how to be a decent human being, probably the best value lies in the fact that learning language is within the humanities, and without mastering language, you can forget about the sciences, economics, so on. As I have a humanities degree (I am an English school teacher by training and now academic librarian), I have been looking over the issue now and then. Here are some of the items I have seen on this as of late:
- Bruce Watson of Walletpop asking "The Liberal Arts Education: A recipe for poverty?" Here is a great reason why you should study the humanities: to help you sell your ideas, among other reasons.
- Patricia Cohen wrote a big piece in the NYT on "In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth."
- Of course, very often, the business model is seen as the salvation (even though it was business people who, in large measure, are to blame for the current economic clusterfuck). Peter Katopes writes that "The 'Business Model' is the Wrong Model" for Inside Higher Ed.
- And then you have the less than enlightened Georgia legislators who want to get rid of courses on subjects like queer theory. Sure, they claim it is due to the economy, but we all know it is really about seizing a moment to move their close minded agenda. This story was picked up by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Some of the, well, less than enlightened (I am really trying to stay polite here) comments, are worth a read if for no other reason than to see ignorance at work.
This is not going to get easier over time as the economy worsens, and people really latch on to the idea that going to college should be a form of vocational training. Things are bound to get interesting.
Update note (3/7/09):
- The Irascible Professor features an essay by Sanford Pinsker arguing that "We need the liberal arts now more than ever." A couple of good lines from the essay:
- "Students will not only have to learn how to recognize when somebody is speaking rot (the last election should have provided plenty of practice) but also how to have nimble, adaptable minds. At its best, a liberal education prepares a student to be a lifetime learner. "
- "A trained mind and a willingness to pursue ideas wherever they might lead us is essential to a democracy."
- Inside Higher Ed. has a news piece on the Georgia affair I mentioned above, as well as a couple other stories of places that may be using the economic crisis to stir controversy over certain courses.