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.