by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Grattan Brown writes for the Martin Center about taking steps to save the humanities in higher education.
For more than two decades, professors have been “flipping” classrooms to move course material online and use classroom time for student-centered activity and more complex, collaborative thinking. This flip strikes me as a good analogy for a needed reform: Flipping some required humanities courses from the first half to the second half of a college student’s education.
Higher ed leaders should replace lower-level humanities survey courses with an integrated series of upper-level courses that help students to think deeply about humanity and society. Moving most humanities courses to junior and senior years enables freshmen to declare a major and take its initial courses earlier. Students would have more time to explore different majors, settle into one, and prepare for a career in their field of study.
Why should students take any more than a few humanities courses and just train for a career? The humanities study the human being, and thus, the human context for every business deal and cultural activity, all scientific research, and every use of technology in communication, medicine, manufacturing, etc.
When we ponder new technologies like organ transplants in the 1950s and gene splicing today, we look at insights developed from the ancient world to the present. Those insights aren’t sound because they are old; they are sound because it didn’t take humanity very long to figure out certain characteristics of human success and failure and to explore fundamental human experiences. Great minds have found many ways to express those insights so that future peoples may use their works to sort out our aspirations, achievements, tragedies, and failures.
By humanities, I mean literature, history, art, music, theology, philosophy, and its branches in the social sciences such as psychology and economics. I also include logic and rhetoric—the arts of thinking and communicating. The great minds are great because they have excelled at the arts of thinking and of communicating their insights with great depth and refinement.