I’m speaking of the just-issued The American Academy of Arts and Sciences report on the humanities in higher ed, the Heart of the Matter , released with snazzy blurb-testimonials to The Importance of the Humanities from George Lucas and others, and a NYT column by David Brooks.
Brooks’s column is fine, a gentle reminder to the NYT liberal-minded-in-all-things readers that there are solid reasons to think their kind have been poor stewards of liberal arts education.
But Peter Wood, president of the National Scholars Association, tears into the report . I’m sure others not blind to the bad liberal stewardship of our humanities will pile on in due course.
For a more personal and restrained assessment however, I again turn you to Colin Brown’s Signpostings . A taste:
I’ve dabbled in envisioning a curriculum for English and History that would reflect an emphasis on liberal learning . . . I am of the opinion that there should be at least two years of “American studies,” if not three. Some might find this focus excessive; after all, there are thousands of years of history and culture to be studied. Yet I do not think we should focus on one goal of liberal education - the pursuit of the True - at the detriment of another - the education of good citizens. Yes, the first is essential in the promotion of the second. But I have noticed a certain disregard for America among those who uphold liberal education.
A “certain disregard” indeed! Not that a coherent plan for studying world history or world humanities has been the gain exchanged such disregard of America. Really, you ultimately need both the American and World studies (I’ve hinted at some of the world-oriented studies students need in my discussion of Pankaj Mishra here ).
But I will add to Colin’s key civic education point, something I learned from Mortimer Adler and Theodore Sizer, a basic pedagogic reason for a greater emphasis in elementary/secondary ed, and in the initial college requirements, upon things American, namely, that American students’ minds are more geared to retain them. For example, connecting the names Calhoun or Roosevelt with the same street-name in their neighborhood results in quicker and more motivated retention than their encountering the names of Gupta emperors and such (the English spelling of which often varies from text to text).
But read Colin.