Archive for ‘The Case for Humanities’

August 13, 2010

The Case for Humanities: Pt. 2

Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, regards the imbalance of our society as a favoring of one brain hemisphere over another. The left, concerned with sequential reasoning, logical processing, and language syntax, has been the seat of economic prosperity for much of the last century. But in the new era, which Pink calls the Conceptual Age, technology and economics will largely render those abilities immaterial to personal success. If a computer can do your job more cheaply, or if your skills can be outsourced in any way, Pink argues that your left-brainedness could use an infusion of right-brain approaches. The right hemisphere concerns simultaneous, contextual, abstract mental processes. Humor, language interpretation, creativity—all these reside in the brain’s right hemisphere. Historically, creativity has not been valued monetarily—especially in American society. However, in the Conceptual Age, Pink believes jobs like designer, artist, teacher, and storyteller will be the ones concerned mothers subtly push their children toward. The great human skills of the next age include narrative, humor, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to find meaning. If this is so, then the humanities have as much value as the sciences in the coming era. Beyond the philosophical values, an education including the humanities will reap eminently measurable economic rewards. This is the future we face.

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July 10, 2010

The Case for Humanities: Pt. 1

This is a little different—nonfiction! A long-form essay concerning my day job as an English Teacher.

When asked by a parent or a friend what it is we do, we English teachers are hard-pressed to provide a concise response. Consequently, people tend to view our subject as airy, or superfluous. I so often hear how nice it is that I get to teach an “easy” subject, or that I can cover whatever I want in my class. The Math and the Science teachers, by contrast, have the truly noble mission in education: it is theirs to prepare the children for the realities of the world, while I drone on about poetry. History teachers suffer similar fates in the eyes of friends and parents, although the study of our past has more immediate relevance than, say, the motives of Iago in Othello. Shakespeare is fiction, after all; what real purpose could it serve?

Here and now, I throw down the gauntlet. My job has value, as do the other professions concerning the humanities. How they matter is harder to explain, and impossible to quantify, so most do not attempt to estimate the humanities’ value. This creates an air of condescension among engineers and business people toward those of us with “liberal arts” degrees. Our studies are not real work, it would seem.

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