Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 25
Oh, the Humanity!
By Jim Haas
adio broadcaster Herbert
Morrison's heartfelt cry
while witnessing the 1937
Hindenburg disaster, "Oh,
the humanity!," serves as
a sharp reminder that the
technology of the day-of
any day-pales in importance when measured against the value of
the human beings it serves. Morrison described the falling wreck and its twisting
girders, but, to him, the people were the
loss-and the story.
So should it be in schools. What and how we
teach will serve to build a good society in proportion to how well our students construct a
vision of their lives shaped by an understanding of, and sensitivity to, the human condition. The story of humanity-our history, our
compelling ideas, our enduring expressions in
literature and the arts, our organizations for
a multitude of purposes-is a story of triumphant achievement and of dismal failure, but
it's our story and a necessary foundation for
a stable, open, humane society.
Unfortunately, this story is being displaced
in schools by a pronounced drift toward content deemed more practical. This is not a new
phenomenon: The Cardinal Principles of Education released by the National Education Association's Commission on the Reorganization
of Secondary Education in 1918 replaced, for
most students, a liberal arts and sciences curriculum with one focused on basic life and job
skills deemed useful in an industrial age. It
took the shock of global war and a Cold War
to remind us that basic skills and learning for
earning isn't enough.
In totalitarian societies, schools indoctrinate; in democracies, schools illuminate-or
should. In the Western tradition, illumination
is the purpose of the liberal arts and sciences
as the common core of learning for those who
would govern themselves. "Liberal" derives
from the Latin root liberalis, "worthy of a free
person," and the humanities and natural sciences give students the tools of liberty.
Vartan Gregorian, the president of the
Carnegie Corporation of New York, has spoken of liberal education as "the soul of democracy" because it prepares students to "appreciate the difference between earning a living
in a political
and actually living; to cultivate more than
a passing familiarity with ethics, history,
science, and culture; and to perceive the
tragic chasm between the world as it is
and the world as it could and ought to be."
The world as it is-America as much as
any place-is struggling to come to grips
with rapid changes in social, economic,
and political traditions that can make us
feel as if we're lost on a stormy sea without a compass. Dramatic advances in technology pile on yet more unknowns, drenching us with yet more waves of change. For
many people, the world is becoming uncomfortable and, for some, frightening.
The humanities, and the sciences in the
service of humanity, can help students
navigate an uncharted future by empowering them with the rich legacy of diverse
cultures while signaling opportunities to
build a satisfying life for themselves and
to contribute to the common good. Too impractical? Too altruistic? Consider Steve
Jobs' oft-quoted remark while introducing
a new iPad: "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough-it's technology
married with liberal arts, married with
the humanities, that yields the result that
makes our hearts sing."
Our hearts would sing more joyfully in
a political climate tempered by the humanities with their abiding themes of constructive citizenship and commitment to
the common good. As W. Taylor Revely IV,
the president of Longwood University, observed to The New Yorker recently: "Over
the past two generations, the idea of education being about teaching people how
to engage in public affairs has been lost.
At one point, the core curriculum at the
college level was focused on: How do you
get ready to be an active citizen in America? How do we make democracy endure?
Today, education is almost exclusively
thought of in terms of career preparation.
That's what we've lost."
And lost not only at the college level. Indeed, the loss in our schools may have the
greater impact because students who go
on to college may be less inspired to pursue humanities studies while those who
go on to technical or trade programs, or
who terminate their formal schooling, are
unlikely to have structured opportunities.
Civics and history, including world history,
are essential for informed citizenship and
more effective when enriched with the languages, literature, and arts that express
a culture's deepest values and self-reflections.
What are we to do? First, resist the lure
of specialized vocational training by recognizing that a broad understanding of
man and nature equips students to adapt
to rapidly changing career opportunities,
including many that none can yet foresee.
Resist, as well, the relentless messages
from many quarters defining success simply in dollars. Rather, let success be seen
as a balance of worthwhile work, informed
citizenship, and satisfying family and community life.
And certainly resist the politicians who,
personifying Oscar Wilde's description of
a cynic as one "who knows the price of
everything and the value of nothing," cite
poor return on the dollar as reason to reduce student financial aid for those pursuing humanities programs.
Thousands of creative humanities programs exist in schools, museums, and
other venues across the nation, just one
notable example being the Lowell Milken
Center for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott,
Kan., which celebrates those "who changed
history through the power of one," in the
words of the organization's mission statement, and offers free classroom materials
and international art and project prizes.
More broadly, the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences, responding in part to
a bipartisan congressional request, has
published "The Heart of the Matter," a
2013 report with recommendations for the
humanities and social sciences in schools.
The humanities-central to our cultural
heritage-are not inborn and must be
taught anew for each generation. Let's get
on with it. n
JIM HAAS is a retired teacher, principal, and
graduate-degree director at Webster University in
Kansas City, Mo., and a Milken Family Foundation
Educator Award recipient.
EDUCATION WEEK | November 16, 2016 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary | 25
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 16, 2016
Education Week - November 16, 2016
Few Women Run School Districts. Why?
Trump’s Lesson Plan Awaited
A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
News in Brief
States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Proposed ESSA Spending Rules Encounter Stiff Resistance
Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Governors and Schools Chiefs Results
Ed. Policy on Simmer as GOP Holds Congress
GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
State Ballot Measures
In Mass., Voters Shun More Charter Schools
Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Department May Again Find Itself in GOP Cross Hairs
Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 10
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 11
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 13
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 14
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - State Ballot Measures
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 21
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Senate/House Results
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 29
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 30
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 31
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW1
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW4