Ah, the humanities!

The Nonprofiteer hardly knows what to say about the argument that the humanities must justify themselves economically or die out.  The humanities (or the liberal arts, or non-vocational education–whatever term is current) teach people to read and evaluate arguments so they can make decisions.  Is there some more useful skill than that, in the economic realm or elsewhere?

Which means that Professor Kronman’s blithe concession in the article that study of the humanities may inevitably become a luxury constitutes a rich man’s indifference to everyone else’s needs.  Doubtless he simply means to be provocative–this is, after all, the same good professor who infuriated the Nonprofiteer in a long-ago Contracts class by arguing for the enforceability of slavery.

But let’s not be so quick to give up on the idea that everyone should be taught to read and write.  If humanities professors can’t manage to make that argument, without stooping to “It adds hundreds of thousands of dollars to your lifetime earning potential,” they should get new jobs.

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2 Responses to “Ah, the humanities!”

  1. Jim Simpson Says:

    The ability to read and write and actually be educated well enough to be able to compose something TO read and write, then the ability proves itself out if you CAN read, consider and make your own decision about his argument to begin with.

    A loopy concession to your point, but one that lasers in on the miss-directed “cost justification” argument. You still have to be able to add and subtract to establish what the costs are, so now we’re justifying mathematics also. So much for “lasering”…

  2. Ellen Wadey Says:

    The original article is skewed to those seeking jobs in the university system, which is the “apple” to the “orange” of why get a liberal arts degree. If we’re going to talk about employment, then let’s talk about how many middle-management accountants, engineers, financial planners, etc., are getting laid off right now. My guess is that the numbers are comparable. And, we can talk about how all the science dollars disappeared under the Bush administration, which resulted in fewer academic positions in the sciences at universities. Does that mean that science isn’t valuable any more or just that we had a scary president? Or, we could remember back to when the dot.com bubble burst. Does that mean that computers and the internet aren’t valuable any more?

    The more time I spend in the classroom, the more I see the need for liberal arts/humanities degrees. In many cases, students are now being trained for jobs not how to hone their critical thinking skills — which the humanities demand because there usually isn’t a clear cut answer. They have to learn how to articulate and support positions that aren’t already set in stone. In other words, they don’t learn how to regurgitate a predetermined answer. How many of us are actually working in the field of our college degrees? People who have liberal arts degrees have the flexibility to change careers, try new things — because that’s what we’ve been trained to do — think through a situation that isn’t necessarily clear. Where does an accountant or an engineer go when their job pool has dried up? Specialized skills are great as long as there is a growing need for a specialized work force.

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