Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eleanor Coleman - What do the humanities mean to you?

Eleanor Coleman is a life-long educator, leadership coach, and associate of Human Systems Dynamics. Dr. Coleman is currently the project lead for the Minnesota Humanities Education Initiative with Omaha Public Schools.

What do the humanities mean to me? This question is one that has had different meanings at different junctures of my life. As a language arts major in my early years, I thought of the humanities as a set of course work that helped to explain history through the study of art, music, literature, drama, social sciences, etc. While fascinating to experience and teach for me personally, as a young teacher, I often found it difficult to transfer that passion to my students. I remember one student asking me, “Why do I need to study about these old dead white people?” This brought about a shift for me in my own thinking because I had to seriously ask myself, “Why indeed?” What that student taught me was that history should be taught as an ongoing investigation and conversation rather than a dry compilation of facts and dates, or a set of questions easily answered on a test. An inquiry – a genuine humanities approach – would allow students to extract meaning from the past and explore the connection between their personal experience and the author’s own assumptions, perceptions, and values.

Today, my understanding of the humanities is not just about academic subjects but human rights involving feelings, values, and opinions, which must be given at least equal importance if transformative learning is to take place. Educators of the humanities need the courage to resist the safe, purely cognitive approach, and honor and engage in a respectful dialogue and acceptance of the lived experiences of themselves and others.

Anchored in four core values acknowledging the power of story, authentic relationships, and the power of the community to resolve its own issues, the important and impactful work of the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Education Initiative with Omaha Public Schools is providing the opportunity for educators to fully explore and accept the responsibility of honest, critical self-examination, not denying that she or he is susceptible to the social construct of race and its biases, but striving to recognize them and thus to change them.

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