William D. Adams: College are more than workforce pipelines.
From NEH Chairman William "Bro" Adams:
Community colleges are forging citizens, many from disadvantaged backgrounds and communities in this country and beyond. These students must graduate with not only the passion for citizenship that I saw on display in Miami, but with the tools to be productive and dedicated participants in the public realm.
As they do that work, these institutions must be supported in their efforts to produce citizens as well as technicians. This means ensuring they have the resources to support strong course offerings in American history, in the philosophical underpinnings of the Republic, in our political institutions and processes, and in the important social and political challenges of contemporary life.
A recent Humanities Indicators report notes that humanities concentrations among community college graduates is on the increase, and that’s a good thing. Work readiness matters, but it is only part of the picture and only part of the mission of our community colleges. Here as elsewhere in our educational system, we must not abandon the ambition of educating the whole person.
Universities need to create more opportunities for students to connect with people in circumstances vastly different from their own and to relate what they’re learning in classes about justice, politics, economics and history to real work in the community. Our BreakingGround initiative, which works closely with the national American Democracy Project, does just that. Through the initiative, engineering students have built models of water infrastructure for the city of Baltimore, English students have performed research and service to advance childhood literacy, and American studies students have documented the proud history and decline of the industrial neighborhood of Sparrows Point.
The New Republic posted a little forum yesterday under the title “Do Humans Still Need to Study . . . .
The New Republic posted a little forum yesterday under the title “Do Humans Still Need to Study the Humanities?” The editors asked four former presidents of major institutions to answer the question. All of them state their commitment to humanities instruction and their regret that the fields have become marginal in recent years.
But their endorsements, ironically, signal one reason for the decline. Here is the nut of each one.
“Whatever happened to the recognition that a university education has at least three purposes: helping one understand who they are and what excites and motivates them; helping understand one’s relationship to the greater world; and, also, becoming prepared for a job.” –Bernie Machen, University of Florida
“It is clear that to thrive in a society where they may have up to six different careers, business and STEM graduates need also to be curious and creative, to be critical thinkers and good communicators.” –Jim Barker, Clemson University
“The failure to incorporate studies in the liberal arts and humanities, along with STEM education, will deprive the next generation of students the critical thinking skills and context necessary to address the challenges they will face in the future.” –Charles Steger, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
“Employers send a consistent message about what they look for in a college-educated employee: the ability to write clearly, speak persuasively, analyze data effectively, work in diverse groups, and understand the competitive global knowledge environment.
“These characteristics are all nurtured and tested in a purposeful liberal arts education.” –Kevin Reilly, University of Wisconsin
The problem is simple. None of these campus leaders singles out the content of the humanities as the focus. Only President Reilly mentions a name, George Bernard Shaw, and he rightly ridicules the infusion of “contemporary popular culture” in the Western canon. But as his final quotation shows, that emphasis gives way to what the other three presidents highlight: the cognitive benefits of humanistic study.
The humanities bolster critical thinking, it is said; they instill curiosity and creativity and flexibility. Those mental dispositions match the needs of the twenty-first-century workplace, casting the humanities as superb job preparation.
No surprises here. These defenses of the humanities are routine, and have been for years, but they don’t seem to have worked. We could rehearse the logical replies, which include:
Scientific method is just as powerful an instrument of critical thinking as literary interpretation. Anthropology and other social sciences can involve just as much non-quantifiable inquiry as English and Film do. If the humanities implant such superior thinking skills, then we should expect literature professors to demonstrate a more creative sensibility and “rangy mind” (Reilly’s term) than math and chemistry professors. But . . .
Instead, however, think of the poverty of these endorsements this way. If you can’t make a case for a discipline on the basis of the actual objects studied by that discipline, it’s doomed. The field needs to have confidence in the things it takes as its subject matter.
Apparently, though, the figures in the forum don’t believe that great novels and paintings and historical events are sufficient to justify the humanities. They turn to instrumental values instead, what studying those things will do to students’ cognition.
Unfortunately, even if true, those affirmations will not increase the popularity of humanities courses. What sophomore will be drawn to a course in Renaissance sculpture because it will enhance her critical thinking skills?
Only the actual materials will sustain the humanities, but we have to believe in them enough to say so. We need more conviction than this. We need to be able to say to incoming students, “In this course, you are going to encounter words and images and ideas that are going to change your life. We’ve got Hamlet and Lear, Achilles and David, Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Bennett, Augustine’s pears and Van Gogh’s stars—beauty and sublimity and truth. If you miss them, you will not be the person you could be.”
The ability to draw from other disciplines produces better scientists.
Our culture has drawn an artificial line between art and science, one that did not exist for innovators like Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs. Leonardo’s curiosity and passion for painting, writing, engineering and biology helped him triumph in both art and science; his study of anatomyand dissections of corpses enabled his incredible drawings of the human figure. When introducing the iPad 2, Jobs, who dropped out of college but continued to audit calligraphy classes, declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” (Indeed, one of Apple’s scientists, Steve Perlman, was inspired to invent the QuickTime multimedia program by an episode of “Star Trek.”)
When it comes to learning, there’s a thin line between luxury and necessity.
Best quote: "I’m not sure where “Lear” fits into work force needs."
And I didn't know that Reagan said that taxpayers shouldn't be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity” and that “there are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without.” And that became a pivotal moment in the discussion of higher education's ideal benefits starting the balance to tip toward utility. WOW!
In January, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Center for Higher Education (NCHEMS) published “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment.” Drawing upon U.S. Census data from 2010 and 2011, the report provides evidence to refute several common misconceptions about the long-term financial effects on students who elect to major in the liberal arts (defined as humanities, arts and social sciences). Among their ...
...we believe the education we provide our students is far more than just career prep for their first job. We challenge our students to develop life-long skills such as analytical thinking, clarity in written and spoken expression, collaboration, and creativity. These skills can all be developed through the arts and are valuable in any career.
Just as importantly, we believe that our mission is to help students prepare for a rich, meaningful and engaged life that goes well beyond job titles and salary levels. Exposure to and understanding of the arts is key to developing qualities of responsible citizenship.
Why professors, librarians, and politicians are shunning liberal arts in the name of STEM
In truth, the existence of the crisis is so solidly established that complaining about the hand-wringing over the crisis has itself become a cliché.
In other words, the humanities crisis is largely a positive feedback loop created by stressing out over economic outcomes.
There is little sense in denying that there is a crisis afoot in the humanities. But it’s myopic to focus on the crisis without acknowledging what the humanities really have to offer. In the absence of concrete understanding, we are left to spin about in anxious epicycles, fretting that our children’s art history and philosophy degrees will ultimately be worth no more than $4.85—the approximate cost of one page of fine bond paper. This kind of worry-worn discourse serves to reify and strengthen the downward trends in humanities enrollment. It not only makes the crisis worse; in some sense, it is the crisis. But it is painfully short-sighted to decide the value of art or literature or history solely in terms of today’s economic needs.
Maine is well known for producing impressive political leaders — particularly, impressive women political leaders. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith is rightly remembered as the first of these in the contemporary era, anticipating and no doubt inspiring the impressive careers of Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Chellie Pingree, among others. Smith [...]
Liberal arts colleges excel at providing students with the foundational skills — effective writing, strong oral communications, and experience in research, analysis, and synthesis — that corporate America finds so lacking in today’s workforce. These skills are more relevant and valuable than ever in the globally connected, innovation-driven 21st century economy.
The humanities enrich our souls, and sometimes even our pocketbooks.
“A broad liberal arts education is a key pathway to success in the 21st-century economy,” says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. Katz says that the economic return to pure technical skills has flattened, and the highest return now goes to those who combine soft skills — excellence at communicating and working with people — with technical skills.
Four former college presidents take on the humanities.
Critical thinking, appreciation of the arts and humanities and understanding how to relate to society and the natural world are essential characteristics of the educated person.
There is, without doubt, a critical need to rethink and restructure the liberal arts core to help develop intellectually lively and engaged citizens and leaders. The good news is that this also constitutes an opportunity that society is looking to colleges and universities to seize.
On February 28, 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan spoke of "certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without." Here's why liberal education has never recovered.
A farmer reading the classics or an industrial worker quoting Shakespeare was at one time an honorable character. Today’s news stories lament bartenders with chemistry degrees. "Where once these ‘incongruities’ might have been hailed as signs of a healthy republic," Mr. Roth writes, "today they are more likely to be cited as examples of a ‘wasted’—nonmonetized—education."
"Our government takes inspiration from Athens and draws on the model of the Roman Republic, but we also inherit the Enlightenment ideal of freedom for all, even if our history has never quite lived up to it. My view—inspired by a long line of American thinkers going back to Thomas Jefferson—is that in a democratic republic the liberal arts should not be the exclusive privilege of the few. We should all have access to an education in thinking and judging for ourselves. The main goals of elementary and secondary education should center on cultivating the liberal arts, and citizens should have the opportunity to study the liberal arts in college without incurring onerous debt."
Students need an unvarnished picture of our past and the skills to understand and interpret that picture.
Navigating the tension between patriotic inspiration and historical thinking, between respectful veneration and critical engagement, is an especially difficult task, made even more complicated by a marked shift in the very composition of “we the people.” This fall, whites will constitute a minority of public-school students in the United States. “Our” past is now more diverse than we once thought, whether we like it or not.
The humanities aren’t obscure, arcane or irrelevant. They awaken our souls, influence how we think about inequality, and help us adapt to a changing world.
"Our world is enriched when coders and marketers dazzle us with smartphones and tablets, but, by themselves, they are just slabs. It is the music, essays, entertainment and provocations that they access, spawned by the humanities, that animate them — and us."
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