Friday, December 11, 2009

humanities and perspective

Anonymous wrote the following (thanks for the comment!) in response to my last post wondering whether perspective can be taught:

I think that is what the humanities are for! Think where we would be if we had to experience all of life's possible heartaches in order to understand them! Life would really be unbearable then. But the humanities are becoming less important, considered less useful, even in the context of the liberal arts. It's a shame. (Perhaps one day, the humanities will be back, along with friendship, and letter writing in long hand! What do you think?)

Anonymous' comments hit home for me. My family is an arts and humanities family--lots of books around the house, everyone a musician, and kids who like their courses in the humanities. I sit on the board of the Utah Humanities Council whose mission is to improve public life through the humanities. And I've done some surveying of freshmen about their views on the humanities as part of general education.

There are some interesting (and hopeful) things afoot with young people and the humanities. The bad news is that they are relatively uninterested in traditional approaches to the humanities--survey classes in history or art history for example, or public lectures by renowned humanists. (UHC is struggling to find ways to get young people to its programs, for example.

But my sense is that there is a flowering of "doing humanities" among young people.

  • Memoir, for example, is a simple thing using the internet or scrapbooks, and Facebook can be seen as an act of self-creation as significant as autobiography and journal writing.
All of these trends, and Anonymous' comment which linked them in my head, make me think that the humanities may be a key pathway to perspective for college students. They also make me think that we need to re-think our humanities curricula. Can courses in those key disciplines be as much about doing as about learning? If so, then they would link the experiential components of perspective with the educational components that we are established to provide.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I think your sense of Humanities today makes some sense, but I truly do not think that fits with the beliefs about the Humanities held by many HE faculty.

If the Humanities were about perspective then experiential learning and courses that require students to consider other perspectives would be fine. But if it is just about perspective then a Health class would be part of the Humanities. Considering how to maintain one's health, discussing the impact of cancer on society and learning why lifting weights might be good for you would all fit.

But no HE faculty is going to buy that. The "Humanities" is something more - disciplines that are important, and so on.
To me, what really matters in a Liberal Education is the perspectives piece. And students can get that in so many ways. Service learning, outdoor experiences, being in a play, falling in love, and so much more that does not require a disciplinary expert to make it happen.