Thursday, October 16, 2014

Andy Gilats - Why do the humanities matter in today's world?

Andrea (Andy) Gilats, Ph.D., is an educational leader specializing adult and lifelong learning in the arts and humanities. After retiring from the University of Minnesota, she helped the Minnesota Humanities Center develop the “Toward a More Perfect Union” series of public conversations about the United States Constitution.

Almost every day, you see, hear, or read that, according to the very latest polls, about two-thirds of Americans are deeply worried about the future of our democracy. That’s a stunning and scary number! Is our cherished democracy slipping out from under us? And have we lost the will to do something about it?

How might we create a secure, vital future for the democracy we love? What might a living, working American democracy look like in a new century? Even transformative change is bolstered by continuity, so how do we apply our most enduring democratic ideals to our increasingly diverse society? In a time of rapid change and constant motion, how do we build a future in which our children and grandchildren can thrive, even when winds blow and sands shift? Given today’s political landscape, how do we even begin to think and talk about fundamental questions like these?

Because the humanities focus on dialogue, reflection, and meaning-making, they offer a perfect path through which to engage complex questions in ways we can understand and embrace. The humanities reveal us to ourselves because they illuminate the full landscape of human endeavor—both public and private—through fields of inquiry and discovery, such as civics, the arts, philosophy, religion, and history. Truly, the humanities offer the kind of multifaceted approach we need if we are to find common ground upon which to create a sustainable future for our democracy.

Do the humanities still matter? Human history tells us that they have always mattered, and efforts like “Toward a More Perfect Union: Talking About the Constitution” are living proof that they matter today, perhaps more than ever. The U. S. Constitution, one of the greatest humanities documents ever created, enables us to connect with one another using the very document that keeps our democracy from falling apart. Where better to find common ground as we engage with our neighbors—those we know and those we need to know—to explore our democratic journey?

By drawing on what we, ourselves, have done and made, the humanities show us that we are all in this together. Exploring our shared humanity allows us to transcend even the deepest ideological, social, and cultural differences to illuminate the past, live consciously in the present, and shape a better world.

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