Kerry Hart: What good are the humanities?

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About 2,300 years ago, the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle said that education must have some benefit for the good of humanity. We have accepted this as a fundamental premise for our educational system in the western world.

The daunting task of doing good as a result of education applies to the humanities as much as any other subject area. Albert Einstein wrote a letter to the New York Times in 1952 in which he stated that the humanities help us better understand our humanity, our motives, illusions, our sufferings, as well as teach us about relationships. I agree with Einstein. But learning about the humanities - or even teaching humanities - does not, by itself, benefit society.

If students in literature and philosophy classes learned how to be good and then applied that knowledge, the world would be transformed. We would be closer to world peace, crime would be greatly reduced and we would be implementing spiritual solutions to solve the economic and environmental problems of the world. So what good are the humanities if we don't apply our acquired knowledge to become a better person and a contributor to the advancement of civilization?

Some academicians argue that the business of the humanities was never intended to save us. Teachers of philosophy and literature teach about the foundations of knowledge and how to analyze thought. Academic competency is in the content of the discipline - not in ministry.

But on the other side of the argument, the outcome of a student's educational experience in the humanities should have some tangible result besides the sheer pleasure of taking the courses. If the humanities are beneficial to civilization, we must find a way to help students analyze, synthesize and then generalize their knowledge into work and life experiences.

It is not enough to learn about the humanities. Students must learn how to think in the humanities. And teaching students to think in the humanities requires a major reform in the humanities curriculum. We must require a service component in conjunction with humanities courses so that students must perform community service as a direct application of the theories and principles of the course content.

A service requirement will give students an opportunity in which they live the real intent of the humanities by playing a part to help create a humane world. Then the answer to the question of "What good are the humanities?" will be self-evident.

Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs.

Comments

Jay_K 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm of the opinion that obligatory community service in one form or another would be beneficial for everyone, not just those taking the humanities course. Of course, the community as a whole would likewise benefit from the surplus labor. I'm not certain, however, just what the author of this article meant by "implementing spiritual solutions to solve the economic and environmental problems of the world." Is Hart seriously suggesting that praying --id est, talking to an imaginary friend-- is going to make a difference?

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Jay_K 6 years, 11 months ago

You'll note I used the word "opinion" there. Everyone has one. It is, indeed, my opinion that mandatory community service would benefit the community at large. Individuals may not care for a bit of extra work, but the overall advantages in such a system would seem to outweigh the drawbacks. I'll not dispute your claim that in a perfect world, free will is preferable to coercion. That is self-evident.

But in reality, how much better do you suppose our society would be, if instead of spoon-feeding a Bronze Age myth for a couple hours every Sunday to kids, you have them pick up trash beside the roads instead? Or shovel snow out of the driveways of the elderly? Or any number of other things that would fall under the category of beneficial to the community in which they live? As members of the community, it would behoove us all to work together.

Your link to that discussion seems to be an attempt to label me a fascist, and I resent it. I'm not suggesting we burn books or institute a genocidal campaign to wipe out those we disagree with. I'm simply stating my view that enlightened self-interest is the best way to go.

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nightbird 6 years, 11 months ago

From my perspective "sbvor" writes a lot but often gets in the way of his/her message because of the over use of words such as "socialist", totalitarianism", "fascist", "Marxist" , or whatever. "sbvor" is free to use such words but I think they often result in the comment itself being more of a scripted cartoon than a carefully constructed opinion.

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JLM 6 years, 11 months ago

The idea of universal service is a good idea. Hell, it's a great idea. It's an idea which is long overdue.

We are a fat indulgent lazy nation which has lost its connection with its roots. The fellas who led the Revolution (yeah, that original Revoluton) risked and mostly lost everything to create our naton. Our nation was born at the tip of a bloody bayonet held against the neck of the strongest military force that the world had ever known. They fought. They won. Many died. We enjoy the fruits of their victory and have had to only periodically maintain that freedom.

Today we have a sense of entitlement which is only blunted by the obligation to pay taxes (exorbitant taxes in my view).

A bit of universal service --- doesn't have to be military could be working in a hospital emptying bed pans or sweeping streets --- would make us remember that our nation was BUILT through service.

Three quarters of America doesn't even now we are at war because we are so rich there has been no privitation visited upon our citizenry. We've got guns, butter and latte.

I served with lots of draftees and respected their service. Our nation is well served by men who know something about the military even if their service was not voluntary. I am proud of my service and it made me a better man. It's a damn small price to be an American (and get to enjoy SBS).

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steamboatsconscience 6 years, 11 months ago

jallen welcome to the sandbox! I see you have met the almighty,omnipotent crusader for the Neocon right wing. sbvor. no one here is immune from its venom. any subject on these forums will be turned into a bully pulpit on how he/she/it is absolutely RIGHT, and everyone and anyone else who might dare disagree with it will be blasted with the same condescending drivel and the same endless links until as you did, just chuckle at the cartoon character that he/she/it is. bore baits people, like he/she/it did to you with its first post, and if you take the bait, its off to the egomaniac's races. people with low esteem like sbore constantly need to prove to themselves that they are superior to everyone else in at least something. in sbore's case, its comic relief to those of us sane enough to realize that he/she/it's preaching to the choir. and the choir has only two members, sbore and its reflection in the mirror. hope you stick around j, lots of amusement here ok bore get the last word, you always do. LOL

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stompk 6 years, 11 months ago

Treat others as you'd have them treat you.

What's so hard about that?

Education is about learning how and where to look for the information that interests you, and then being able to assemble it into a theory,

or a fact.

Fact can be deceiving though. What one believes to be the truth, becomes fact to them.

To another person, that could be total BS.

Discussion is critical, and that is why these forums are so important to the health of our ailing society.

Cheers to a healthy discussion.

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Jay_K 6 years, 11 months ago

My apologies for not responding more promptly. I'm a fairly busy person, and haven't the time for long-winded online discussions.

In short, sbvor, it is your opinion that mandatory community service would be counterproductive. You have no actual real world statistics or case studies to show how this is so, you just believe it is. Your attempt to obfuscate the matter by drawing imaginary parallels between my opinion and the Nazi Party is most unseemly. While it is true that the Nazi ideology shared some of the philosophical underpinnings of modern progressivism, they derailed the movement with their aggressive belief in an "über-race". That belief is, of course, invalid, considering that science proves there are far more genetic differences within the traditional "races" than there are between them. The Nazis were, clearly, wrong in a number of ways.

So that I don't come across as a sort of hypocrite, I should point out that I did, in fact, serve in the military. Six years of honorable service in the Navy, before I moved to Steamboat a couple years ago. I was a volunteer, of course, and I'm not advocating mandatory military service. But a form of mandatory community service for all would be nice.

As for my religious views, I should point out that they are, in fact, the diametric opposite of what I was brought up to believe. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church. Evolution was nonsense, heathens and homosexuals were all going to burn in hell, et al, ad nauseum. It took years for that programming to fade enough that I could take a truly critical look at what I believed. And I came to the conclusion that it's all mythology, with nothing relevant to say about the modern world. Secular humanism is a far better world-view than religious dogma.

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andymanout 6 years, 11 months ago

If somehow a mandatory community service comes to be, how does one enforce the mandatory part?

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

sbvor, still curious but I can totally understand your reply. Thank you. Appreciate your not taking offense as none was intended. Like I said, just curious. Have a great day.

condoguy, no offense taken. I too find some of the links that sbvor provides to be of interest. I'm not in total agreement with many of them but I always like to look at both sides of a coin. One thing for sure, you have to admire his/her zeal.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 11 months ago

I agree, you are both venerable, and I appreciate reading your stuff, speaking of educations,,,, keep up the good work and lots of luck at ALL you do...........

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 11 months ago

P.S. forgot to add, terrific, but, this thread did give me a headache.........

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id04sp 6 years, 11 months ago

The school gives you an "F" if you don't do it.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 11 months ago

regardless of sbvor's education he/she is well educated, and very knowledgable regarding the subjects he/she expounds, and I find the referrences and links an education in themselves, but you have to read them, you have to think, (not implying you don't bob). lol to all....................

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

sbvor, I'm more than a little curious about your educational backround. This is not a jab or an attempt to poke fun at you, just curiosity on my part. While your views at times seem a little over the top for me, it's apparent that you are a well educated individual. Since my request is sure to subject you to additional criticism and insult I completely understand if you don't respond to my question. Just curious that's all.

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

sbvor, It matters and I appreciate it. While I may not always agree with the opinions of others, I do respect each and every persons right to have or to offer one. Being able to voice one's opinion openly is a very small yet at the same time a very large part of what makes this such a great country. Besides, by listening to the opinoins of others and considering opposing viewpoints it helps me realize that views other than my own are plausible and have value. You never know, this old dog might still be able to learn some new tricks.

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Jay_K 6 years, 10 months ago

This will be my last post on this thread. I choose not to continue arguing a point with someone so blind to reality. As the old saw goes, "When you wrestle with pigs, you both get dirty and the pigs love it." This will undoubtedly be viewed as an ad hominem attack by some, but the phrasing is particularly apt in this instance.

Sbvor is the prototypical NeoCon. His hatred and vehement condemnation of all things Left speak for themselves. His arguments are so obviously biased there's really no need to comment further on them.

As for his painting of the Democratic Party with the same brush as the Nazis, it is clear he's an ardent supporter of the book "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg. Every single point sbvor attempts to make might as well be plagiarized... and in fact, probably is.

In response to that, I'd like to point readers of this thread to this review:

http://www.amconmag.com/2008/2008_01_28/review.html

Read it, please. That devastating review -from a CONSERVATIVE magazine, no less- says it all.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 10 months ago

excellent thesis Jay_, but I do not recall sbvor ever claiming to be the origional author to his/her material just like you he/she seems to provide links and referrances to a good bit of enlightning material, and personal editorial but not claimng to be the origional author. also I don't see hatred, vehement condemnation up the wazoo but not hatred. keep up the good work.................

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 10 months ago

referrences, Oy! this thread is giving me a head ache.......

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Jay_K 6 years, 10 months ago

I know I'm going to regret this, but I'm going to patiently explain my views again. First, sbvor, did you not read the entire review in the link I posted? You seem to be a fairly intelligent person; didn't you grasp the point Bramwell was trying to make? He was saying that Goldberg (whose views you parrot and whose book you've been pimping on this forum) is wrong on a number of counts.

For one, that liberalism and Nazi fascism have some elements in common. To quote: "Nothing in logic compels the ideas of liberalism, fascism, or movement conservatism to cohere into a system. Given the vast range of questions to which competing ideologies purport to provide answers, the real surprise would be if any two ideologies had nothing in common at all." That is self-evident, and sounds the death-knell for the carefully constructed lines you draw between the two ideologies. In an aside, I notice you jumped to quickly defend your own outlook when Bramwell noted parallels between the Nazis and conservatism. I'm not going to argue the point with you, because I am not the one saying (or IMPLYING) that Republicans are all fascists.

Another, that Democrats are pushing vegetarianism on everyone, just like the Nazis did. This seems to be a serious issue for you, since you link that PETA comic so often. But, first of all, I know a number of vegetarians, and not one of them has ever tried to convert me. I know of no vegetarians who are actively trying to implement laws to restrict my food intake to plant matter only. What PETA gets up to (and the anti-fishing propaganda they spout) is irrelevant to my life. Just watch the episode of Bullsh!t where Penn & Teller eviscerate PETA and you'll find that for an organization devoted to animal ethics, it's quite hypocritical. Personally, I agree with PETA in spirit. I don't believe in abusing or mistreating animals without reason (note the qualifier; I support medical testing). But like every other human being, I evolved from omnivorous ancestors. I enjoy a nice steak as much as the next guy. As for the parallel to the Nazis, we can turn again to Bramwell: "That Nazism and contemporary liberalism both promote healthy living is as meaningless a finding as that bloody marys and martinis may both be made with gin. In no case does Goldberg uncover anything more ominous than a coincidence."

And more, on and on. Here's what you said about Bramwell's review: "His arguments became so obtuse they put me to sleep." Obtuse? They were quite salient, and clearly stated. I suspect the narcotic effect you mentioned was your mind shutting down in self-defense in the face of an unassailable position. Seriously, sbvor, READ the review. Every parallel I've seen you state between liberalism and the Nazis is neatly refuted.

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Jay_K 6 years, 10 months ago

(...this 3000 character limit is a bit annoying...)

Don't think I didn't notice how you tried to shift the attention away from the original point of this thread... id est, obligatory community service. I challenged you to produce evidence for your position: that it would be counterproductive. Here are my exact words:

"In short, sbvor, it is your opinion that mandatory community service would be counterproductive. You have no actual real world statistics or case studies to show how this is so, you just believe it is. Your attempt to obfuscate the matter by drawing imaginary parallels between my opinion and the Nazi Party is most unseemly."

And in your follow-up post to that, you tried categorizing me (via my "liberal" viewpoint) with the Nazis AGAIN. Enough already, drop that argument; you lost. One of the points from Bramwell's review you apparently slept through, "An ideology does not come under some kind of curse just because it is put in the same category as Hitler's. Nor by lumping Hitler in with one's political opponents can one can somehow burden them with his crimes."

Please, go back to the original point of this thread, and off all the wild tangents. Show me the real-world evidence that obligatory community service would be counterproductive.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 10 months ago

sbvor talking about OTHER PEOPLE obsessing?

So posting over 1000 posts, I'd guess approximately 95% of those have to do with assailing Liberals/Socialists/Anything not sbvor...isn't obsessive. Uh-huh. Lie to yourself much? Answer: undoubtedly.

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Jay_K 6 years, 10 months ago

Yeesh. I knew I was going to regret it. I'm not going to continue arguing this point. I can recognize an exercise in futility when I see one, and frankly, I'm rather bored at this point. Sbvor has not provided a single real world case where obligatory community service has proven counterproductive. Therefore, his opinion of the matter is relevant only in that our democracy would give him a vote in whether or not to implement such a policy.

On a side note, I resent being called a liar. Impugn my honor again, sbvor, and we'll settle this with muskets at dawn three days hence.

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Jay_K 6 years, 10 months ago

Again, we're going far afield of the topic at hand, and it looks like we're now arguing semantics. Yet, I'll defend my honor thus: I did not lie. I may have misinterpreted your words (though I don't think I misunderstood the intent behind them), but I did not speak a deliberate falsehood.

First, I did not say you said that. Reread that post of mine, please. I said that Bramwell's review shows that Goldberg is wrong. As I put it: "Democrats are pushing vegetarianism on everyone, just like the Nazis did." That is Goldberg's opinion, and a wrong one, at that. Since I did not say you said it, calling me a liar is an invalid assumption.

Second, since you insist on classifying Democrats as Socialists (and therefore Liberal Fascists), it looks to me that you believe Democrats (not all of us, but perhaps the most influential ones) are trying to make everyone vegetarians. This is untrue. I checked out the links you provided, and here is my take on the first few news items at the CSPI website:

"Junk Food Marketing Prevalent in Montgomery County Schools"- The food we give to children has been proven to influence their eating habits into adulthood. Can you seriously defend the viewpoint that we should provide crap like that to kids? While we can try to make a point of providing good food to our children at home, and teaching healthy eating and exercising habits, the fact is, if we offer it to them in school (where there's no parental supervision over their dietary intake), they'll eat it. Parents have the responsibility of raising their children properly. That includes protecting them from dangers they might not understand... such as, that junk food can harm them.

"New York City Board of Health (Again) Votes to Put Calories on Chain Restaurant Menus and Menu Boards"- The NYC Board of Health is not attempting to get rid of meat in the restaurants. They're ensuring that consumers are better informed about the content of their food choices. I see nothing wrong with that. The only downside of the regulation is that some people may feel guilty about indulging in high-fat and high-calorie foods. Objectively speaking, any self-imposed guilt by a minority of consumers is irrelevant to intelligent policy.

"Labels on Alcoholic Drinks Should Include Calories, Ingredients & Alcohol Content"- The statement of CSPI alcohol policies director George A. Hacker is similar to my own opinion: "These labels should benefit consumers, not industry. Consumers need information about calories, to help watch their weight; alcohol content, to help measure their drinking; and ingredients, to help comparison shop on the basis of quality and allergens." It is always in the consumer's interest to make informed decisions about what they're eating and drinking. That is precisely what CSPI advocates.

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Jay_K 6 years, 10 months ago

As far as PETA goes, I've already noted what I think of them. I agree with you in that their propaganda is most distasteful. I also agree with you in that if a government were actively trying to turn everyone into vegetarians, that would be an indicator of totalitarianism. However, there's no chance whatsoever that PETA's rabidly vegetarian stance will gain any sort of popular momentum... thus, their views are inconsequential. If nothing else, the meat industry's lobbyists would never allow lawmakers to impose the sort of laws that would be required to curtail their product... even if any lawmakers were so inclined (which does not seem to be the case).

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