Thursday, October 31, 2013

Whither (or Wither) the Humanities?

The decline of the Humanities has been widely heralded, and Tamar Lewin's "As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry" (New York Times, October 30, 2013) does a good job of summing up the current discussion and offering links to some of the major commentaries on this issue.  As someone who teaches a Humanities course, I can definitely speak to the value of the skills that these classes offer -- especially in critical thinking, argumentation, writing, research, public speaking, and (often) the use of communication technologies.  But I can definitely see why, with the current job market and the growth in student loans, students might not want to major in one of the traditional humanities disciplines.  However, for those who worry that our nation is losing its way and that our students are not gaining the sort of critical thinking skills that they need to face the hard choices fast coming upon us, then I point you to Ken Ilgunas's excellent speech upon his graduation from the Duke Humanities program -- much of which is excerpted in his book Walden on Wheels.  As Ilgunas points out, "One does not become free simply by staying out of debt" or, for that matter, preparing to join the corporate world in order to pay that debt back.

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