The Fate of the Humanities at the Present Time

From the New York Times article, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth“:

“With additional painful cuts across the board a near certainty even as millions of federal stimulus dollars may be funneled to education, the humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents. Technology executives, researchers and business leaders argue that producing enough trained engineers and scientists is essential to America’s economic vitality, national defense and health care. Some of the staunchest humanities advocates, however, admit that they have failed to make their case effectively.

This crisis of confidence has prompted a reassessment of what has long been considered the humanities’ central and sacred mission: to explore, as one scholar put it, “what it means to be a human being.”

The study of the humanities evolved during the 20th century “to focus almost entirely on personal intellectual development,” said Richard M. Freeland, the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education. “But what we haven’t paid a lot of attention to is how students can put those abilities effectively to use in the world. We’ve created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our role as citizens and professionals.”

Okay: I’m a writing teacher, so don’t get me started on this crap about “no one knows what the humanities are for in the real world.” [Insert endocrine storm here.]

It seems to me, however, that the “crisis of the humanities” discussion is a great place for environmental humanists to advocate for our own worth, but also to give the humanities in general a shot in the arm.

Relevance? Fate of the earth, anyone?


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