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Monday, November 14, 2016

For the Sake of Humanity, Teach the Humanities | Education Week

Photo: Jim Haas
"Liberal arts education is essential to good citizenship" notes Jim Haas, retired teacher, principal, and graduate-degree director at Webster University in Kansas City, Mo.

Photo: Getty

Radio broadcaster Herbert Morrison's heartfelt cry while witnessing the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, "Oh, the humanity!," serves as a sharp reminder that the technology of the day—of any day—pales in importance when measured against the value of the human beings it serves. Morrison described the falling wreck and its twisting girders, but, to him, the people were the loss—and the story.

So should it be in schools. What and how we teach will serve to build a good society in proportion to how well our students construct a vision of their lives shaped by an understanding of, and sensitivity to, the human condition. The story of humanity—our history, our compelling ideas, our enduring expressions in literature and the arts, our organizations for a multitude of purposes—is a story of triumphant achievement and of dismal failure, but it's our story and a necessary foundation for a stable, open, humane society.

Unfortunately, this story is being displaced in schools by a pronounced drift toward content deemed more practical. This is not a new phenomenon: The Cardinal Principles of Education released by the National Education Association's Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education in 1918 replaced, for most students, a liberal arts and sciences curriculum with one focused on basic life and job skills deemed useful in an industrial age. It took the shock of global war and a Cold War to remind us that basic skills and learning for earning isn't enough.

In totalitarian societies, schools indoctrinate; in democracies, schools illuminate—or should. In the Western tradition, illumination is the purpose of the liberal arts and sciences as the common core of learning for those who would govern themselves. "Liberal" derives from the Latin root liberalis, "worthy of a free person," and the humanities and natural sciences give students the tools of liberty.

Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has spoken of liberal education as "the soul of democracy" because it prepares students to "appreciate the difference between earning a living and actually living; to cultivate more than a passing familiarity with ethics, history, science, and culture; and to perceive the tragic chasm between the world as it is and the world as it could and ought to be."
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Source: Education Week


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