Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mark Bray - Is there hope for the Humanities?

Mark Bray is a 26-year veteran of Eden Prairie High School (EPHS), having served as Social Studies Department Chair for five years. Mark serves as a Board of Director for the Minnesota Council of Social Studies and has served on several Board of Teaching Task Forces—Mandarin, Teacher Technology, and Social Studies Teacher License Examination. Mark has a passion for empowering students to know themselves and to enhance their skill set through a globalized curriculum. As a former aide to President Ronald Reagan, today he teaches to improve society and has initiated several pilot programs at EPHS such as the Native American Treaties and Sovereignty Pilot and the Constitutional Day relationship with United Health Care which brings lawyers in to teach the Constitutional issues of privacy and search and seizure.

Inclusive wealth shows us that there is more to life than money or GDP per capita for quality of life. Pursuits in life which do not produce direct results in earning money are what provide fuel and impetus to us as we endeavor to determine what it means to be happy. Both Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith wrote extensively on what it means to be happy, and how systems can produce and enhance pathways to seek happiness.

Our pluralistic society allows us to seek our dreams in myriad different ways. The humanities allow us to maximize our thoughts and reflections to better allow us to orient our own humanness towards our values and life trajectories. The humanities teach us to be more fully human which allows us to be better people and citizens. The humanities empower us to flourish and be able to sustain ourselves through challenging times, even when we have wealth. In other words, the humanities allow us to maximize our pursuit towards a more inclusive wealth which allows us to be more fulfilled and purposeful.

They teach us empathy. They teach us citizenship. They empower. No student ever returned to their alma mater thanking their teacher for that wonderful computer test. They often return to speak to the passion that they felt, the empowerment and human skill sets developed, as well as the emotional and intellectual presence of their teacher.

The humanities are the ultimate vehicle for all of this. With the humanities, our society is wealthier in all aspects of how we define wealth.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Angie Batica - Is there hope for the Humanities?

Angie Batica is a U.S. Army Veteran from St. Paul and a 2013 Minnesota Humanities Center Veterans' Voices awardee. Angie volunteers her time to many Veterans organizations, helps raise a family, and assists with the family martial arts business. Most recently she designed the Woman Veteran license plate for the state of Minnesota. Angie is pictured with Senator Alice Johnson who was an author of this successful legislation.

Unfortunately, most news indicates the humanities are indeed in trouble. One culprit is government funding cuts to ‘soft’ educational programs like history, literature, and the arts, which the humanities encompass. When money is limited, funding steers towards ‘hard’ programs like science and math, providing ‘necessary’ skills to students. However, over half of business leaders realize the humanities are essential to the workforce because they help create good decision-makers, critical-thinkers, and personable employees.

What about organizations, such as the Minnesota Humanities Center, which nurture this very subject? These establishments still function while educating the public on all aspects of human culture. While interest may dwindle in areas of education, all is not in trouble within society. State and local funding still supports organizations like the Minnesota Humanities Center, so we must continue to assist them. One way to understand the importance of the humanities is to look at them from the standpoint of a Veteran.

Veterans come home. They return from a world very different from the world of those who have not served. Veterans don’t talk about it. They assimilate into their communities. They work next to you. They shop next to you. They date and wed you. But who are they? Who are they really? Do you know anything about Veterans except what you see on TV?

Veterans, like myself, commonly hear: ‘Thank you for your service,’ and ‘Support our troops.’ We hear Veterans are all heroes, have all seen war, or exhibit PTSD. All or none may true. There are sub-groups, such as minorities, who are Veterans and harbor more unique experiences and challenges. Who are the Veterans living next to you and what are their contributions to society? What are their hardships? Studying the unique culture and mindset of Veterans is necessary to understand how Veterans relate to those who have not served.

Veterans remember the military’s culture, customs, and language. A military language example is: ‘CDR, SOP, TDY or R/S’. Interpretation is not crucial, but you can visualize that a Veteran’s world is vastly different from society and how readjustment into the workplace and civilian life can be difficult. Most Veterans don’t talk about their experiences and most of the population doesn’t ask.

Enter the Minnesota Humanities Center. The Humanities Center teaches us to understand, unite, bridge, and respect our commonalities. Their 2014 Veterans Day event for example, “Listen to a Vet: Bridging the Civilian-Veteran Divide,” with Dr. Paula J. Caplan, sought to close the information gap between Veterans and civilians. Their Veterans' Voices program showcases Minnesota Veterans and the public is educated by their shared accomplishments.

Is there hope for the humanities?

I’d like to think so. The humanities are only in trouble if we allow them to be. As long as organizations such as the Humanities Center continue their mission, the humanities will not be lost. The humanities and history are intertwined. We need to know our past to envision the future and not repeat mistakes. To lose the humanities is to lose what it means to be human.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

Robust and comprehensive policies to support humanities and social sciences research and education are urgently needed to secure America’s future economic, civic, and diplomatic success, according to a new report released by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The 61-page report The Heart of the Matter responds to a 2010 bipartisan request by lawmakers Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Representatives Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and David Price (D-N.C.) to identify the top most critical actions to be taken by Congress, state governments, universities, and foundations to maintain national excellence in humanities and social science scholarship and to achieve long-term national goals of intellectual and economic well-being, a stronger civil society, and successful cultural diplomacy.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences also created a companion film featuring director George Lucas, actor John Lithgow, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Joyce Sutphen - Is there hope for the Humanities?

Joyce Sutphen teaches British literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. Her first collection of poems, Straight Out of View (1995), won the Barnard Women’s Poets Prize. Subsequent collections include Coming Back to the Body (2000), a Minnesota Book Award finalist, Naming the Stars (2004), winner of the Minnesota Book Award, and First Words (2010). She was named Minnesota’s Poet Laureate in 2011.

How are the humanities doing these days? It depends on how things are measured. Not so well, if one counts the proportionate number of college students majoring in English or Philosophy these days, but not so poorly if one listens to what matters to young people as they embark on more “practical” careers in economics or science. What matters to them is finding happiness and meaning in life (call it wisdom; call it the search for beauty, truth and goodness).

For years I have been teaching a humanities first term seminar at Gustavus Adolphus College — a wonderful liberal arts college. My course focusses on travel and journeys of all kinds: physical trips, spiritual quests, and the journey that is each human life. My students are first year students, who, for the most part, plan on majoring in business and science, but in my class they spend the semester reading a range of texts from Siddhartha to Wild, considering their own “life treks” (where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how they plan on getting there).

Nearly every day I read a poem in class — one that is obviously related to the course (Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” or William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark”) or one I think they’ll like, such as Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” with its stirring conclusion:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

I assure you that for most of them, making a lot of money is not what they plan to do, especially after they are reminded of their “wild and precious” lives. They want to make a difference in the world; they want to feel fulfilled.

The humanities are for human beings; they are about being human, and they inspire and challenge us as we live in our particular time and place. They themselves could never be in trouble; in fact, the humanities (with their dreams for better worlds and their critiques of the time being) are an answer to trouble —“shelter from the storm” as Bob Dylan said. Another way of saying this is to say that when the humanities seem to be in trouble, it is an indication that the community (the country, the world) is in trouble and that we need the humanities more than ever. What William Carlos Williams said about poetry can be said about the humanities in general:

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”