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Teaching the Humanities: Vital to Society?

June 12, 2010

From the Globe and Mail:

Acclaimed philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues it is. She’s the latest sage to raise the alarm against higher education’s growing obsession with knowledge you can take to the bank.

University students worried about getting a job see the study of the humanities as a waste of precious time. Research funding (of the new $200-million Canada Excellence Research Chairs, for example) overwhelmingly favour the useful sciences, politicians see technical skills as the key to global economic success and cultural commentators bash the liberal arts as a naval-gazing luxury. Times are hard for humanists.

But when economic growth becomes the focus of education, both democracy and human decency are in jeopardy. In her new book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton), acclaimed University of Chicago philosopher and legal scholar Martha Nussbaum argues that our culture of market-driven schooling is headed for a fall.

Read the entire article and interview

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 9:43 am

    Meh. Dostoyevsky wrote, “Feed men, then ask of them virtue!”

    But honestly, a basic economic analysis puts the lie to her argument that everyone’s just chasing the dollars. Respectable educations in the humanities are expensive, and they don’t pay for themselves. But other specialties do. That’s where her ideal view smashes against the rocks of reality.

    But the real problem I have with her position is that is presumes the necessity of public funding for poets, philosphers, and other “great thinkers;” I’d have to reject this idea out of hand. None of the classical artists and foundational theorists from the Greeks on achieved their immortality on the public dole — each was either independantly wealthy or enjoyed private patronage (except, of course, those who were committed to the art despite abject poverty).

    Yet, we still marvel at Pieta‘s palpable grief and exquisite beauty hundreds of years after the 24-yr old Michelangelo carved it; even thousands of years later, we analyze Ovid’s Metamorphoses and read blind Homer’s Odyssey. How many years from now do you think people will be studying the thousandth publicly funded think-tank white paper on the social habits of inner-city urban youths?

    Just sayin’.


  1. Cassandra, Mammon, and the Death of Critical Thinking | Beyond School

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