Monday, August 24, 2009

Humanities and Education: Dehumanized

Dehumanized: When math and science ruled the school

Mark Slouka's recent article (September 2009) in Harper's Magazine makes some interesting observations about the nature of teaching in the humanities that that are thought provoking, useful and interesting. Slouka points out the clear value of humanities -- but also makes the point that not ALL humanities teaching is necessarily of value. Assessment clearly has a strong role here (i.e., are students more capable of thinking critical after they take a class or get a degree or not - or are they just "older"). He makes an excellent point that the importance of humanities is that they ARE value-laden and thus politically volatile. The point is that we need to be able to conceive of these values and understand their relation in terms of the world we want to live in. Instead, we get toothless introspection. His quote here is a good one about the restless futile inward debate that comprises much of the "social sciences": "Politically neuter, we now sing the politics of ocularcentric rhetroic. Safe in our tenured nests, we risk neither harm nor good." Ultimately, I think Slouka downplays the integrative role of mathandscience (as he puts it) and humanities (where it's not the former telling the latter what's what, but humanties using tolls from mathandscience to asses the degree to which we can get to our value-laden goals). But it's the fodder for some interesting thinking.

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