The Heart of the Matter: Part III

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I want to conclude my discussion of the report from the Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences entitled, The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation, with some comments about why I think this report is so important.

Some have said that there is nothing new in this report. That the recommendations are all fairly self-evident and simply restate commonly understood values and learning objectives of education. For those who believe this, I would suggest that they may be unaware of the current state of education and the slow but persistent erosion of the emphasis on the humanities and the social sciences.

Education at both the K-12 and higher education levels is moving towards a skill-based system where the goal is preparation for professional careers. Research is increasingly focused on STEM. While this is certainly valuable, it is not sufficient. This report is important because it emphasizes the need for both balance and a holistic approach.

Education must include the sciences and the arts. Education must be both practical and aesthetic. Education must help to form the whole person. Education must help students to live personal lives of fulfillment and citizenship as well as becoming globally competitive. Education must engender civility and acceptance so that we can live in diversity and harmony.

Perhaps the reason this report resonates the most with me is because of its focus on leadership. As I referenced two weeks ago, the report asks and answers a very important question: “Who will lead America into a bright future?”   Their answer, “Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce. Experts in national security, equipped with the cultural understanding, knowledge of social dynamics, and language proficiency to lead our foreign service and military through complex global conflicts. Elected officials and a broader public, who exercise civil political discourse, founded on an appreciation of the ways our differences and commonalities have shaped our rich history. We must prepare the next generation to be these future leaders.”

From its very founding, this country has been built on the notion that our democracy depends on “citizens who can think critically, understand their own history, and give voice to their beliefs while respecting the views of others.” As this report emphasizes, these qualities are not innate, they must be taught. And in our current society, they are so rarely modeled in public discourse and government that education must overcome the perception that incivility and partisan, ad hominem behavior is acceptable.

As this report concludes, “(The humanities and the social sciences) go beyond the immediate and instrumental to help us understand the past and the future. They are necessary and they require our support in challenging times as well as in times of prosperity. They are critical to our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as described by our nation’s founders. They are The Heart of the Matter.”  I agree.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Thursday, 24 April 2014