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The “Soul” of Education – Humanities Matter

15 Dec

Let me first begin by stating, that I am clearly biased in favour of the humanities as a drama and history teacher.  Now with that out of the way…

I have just begun reading a book by Martha C. Nussbaum titled, “Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities”.  Only six pages into the first chapter and already I am intrigued by the content and theories that have been introduced thus far.  She argues that democracy, and therefore the economy and our humanity cannot survive without a serious reformation of our current mainstream education systems.   Our schools and the those who have the power to enforce policy and curriculum overwhelmingly support and system of education which caters to the here and now of the current economic climate.  Math, Sciences and Technology are all the rage while the humanities and arts are left on the back burner.  Nussbaum makes reference to educators Rabindranath Tagore and Amos Bronson Alcott when she discusses the word ‘soul’ in an educational context;

“…the faculties of thought and imagination that make us human and make our relationships rich human relationships, rather than relationships of mere use and manipulation.  When we meet in society, if we have not learned to see both self and other in a way, imagining in one another inner faculties of thought and emotion, democracy is bound to fail, because democracy is built upon respect and concern, and these in turn are built upon the ability to see people as human beings, not simply as objects.”

~ Martha C Nussbaum, Not For Profit:Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, P. 6.

Over and over again, the media and popular psychology suggest that today’s youth are self-entitled and have labeled them as Generation Me.   When I speak with other educators I continually hear the greatest challenge they face with students is a lack of critical thinking skills that they feel often comes across as laziness.   Whether these claims are completely true or not, it is interesting to consider a possible correlation between an apathetic generation of youth and systems of education that do not value the humanities.  I doubt many high school classes could teach empathy or encourage collaborative creation better than drama.   Students who learn to understand our past and present through the social sciences have an opportunity to critically assess the world they live in, how it came to be and how it might or could be changed in the future.   Our educational institutions consistently encourage, enforce and promote mathematics, science and technological studies through funding and deny the importance of the arts and humanities through the same means.  Although numeracy, science and technical skills are important and relevant parts of a students education, it is just that, a part and not the only areas to be focused on.  Nussbaum argues that without the arts and humanities students are not developing the critical thinking skills needed to become informed and productive members of a democracy and that our current focus on simply creating employable workers in the current work force we are facing a “silent crisis”.

What do you think?  Is our societal disinterest in the humanities going to negatively effect our democratic systems?

Ken Robinson has got it right…

3 Dec

I am an avid Stumbler and was fortunate enough to stumble upon Ken Robinson’s talk at a TED conference in 2006 titled, “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity“.   His particular talk is one of the most popular talks on TED.com with 7,775,295 views.  He is fantastically witty and his ideas on our current school systems are ones that I share (along with 7 million other viewers).

I enjoyed his talk so much I looked Ken Robinson up online and discovered he is the author of The Element: How Finding Our Passion Changes Everything and Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.  This summer I had the pleasure of reading The Element.

The book is full of anecdotal examples of wildly successful people who were, at one point in their lives, on a path that would have led them astray from their ‘element’.  Like his Ted talk, he links problematic structures within our school systems to the hindrances faced by the men and women discussed throughout the book.

The most powerful idea for me was in the final chapter when Ken Robinson discusses how our changed economy and relationship with technology both have radical implications for our education systems.  Are the past structures of the industrial era really preparing the next generations to be successful in their personal and working lives? Did it ever really best serve the youth who graduated the system?  Ken Robinson would argue no, which is something which resonates me.

I look forward to reading Out of Our Minds in the near future.  Have you read his books or heard his talk on TED.com?  What are your thoughts?

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson