Think the humanities are irrelevant or dead? The Chinese and Russians don't.
At a time when support for the humanities is in decline in the United States, countries with a reputation for crushing free speech are introducing Western-style, liberal-arts education to their universities. Ironic? Yes.
But their reasons for doing so are clear: The humanities and social sciences offer a clear competitive advantage in our increasingly interconnected world. This shift in priorities begs serious consideration about the role the humanities play in our national security and well-being.
In June, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences published such an assessment, titled "The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation." Requested by a bipartisan congressional group, this report reaffirmed the importance of a broadly educated citizenry to our nation's future.
"Heart of the Matter"supports a powerful economic argument for the humanities. Historical knowledge creates a foundation upon which we build the future. Rigorous philosophical discussions teach us to develop and defend positions. Reading and writing programs make us strong communicators. These qualities are all prerequisites for jobs in a modern economy.
"Specialized education is certainly effective for developing isolated skills sets," writes Whitworth University student Rebecca Korf, winner of the Washington Consortium for the Liberal Arts essay contest. "But our economy and society ask for citizens with varied and dynamic abilities."
Twenty-five years ago, many Americans believed the Japanese were poised to dominate the world economically. They were educating engineers more efficiently and exporting superior and cheaper products. But today, with the tech sector more important than ever, it is American companies, including many located in Washington state, that drive innovation and dominate markets.
Our companies, well served by previous investments in the humanities, knew that creativity and vision were every bit as crucial as coding. A better understanding of the human experience empowered them to innovateand to bring to market products well suited for increasingly complex lives. In fact, our national commitment to the humanities and social sciences attracted the most promising engineers from around the world to study at our universities and seek employment with our companies. Given such great success, why would we willingly cede that competitive advantage?
The report also stresses the importance of lifelong learning and the role of the public humanities in providing access to such.
For example, Humanities Washington launched its Family Reading program this spring at the Spokane Public Library and is expanding it this fall to the Spokane County Library. Additionally, its Think & Drink program at Lindaman's bistro, on the South Hill, brings educational opportunities to a wide range of people.
In recent years, funding for the humanities and social sciences has dropped precipitouslyputting our country at risk. We must meet the challenge presented bythe "Heart of the Matter"report. Investment in the humanities offers clear economic return, but also much more: a healthy nation positioned to maintain its leadership role in an increasingly interconnected world.
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