Defending the Humanities and the Idea of America

Carol Geary Schneider (President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities) and David Townsend (Senior Advisor for Seminars of the Aspen Institute, and Director of Wye Seminars on Citizenship in the American and Global Polity) have proposed a new patriotic rationale for an educational model centered on the humanities.

They argue that “America arose on a foundation of ideas, dialogue, values, and aspirations that still stand today at the heart of a strong liberal — and liberating — education. America is an idea, not just a land or an institution.”

Their essay focuses on the archetypical “founders” of the United States of America: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, but could have offered a broader range of historical contributors to the “idea” of America. A new patriotic rationale for the humanities is useful, however, it will need to embrace a much more inclusive and multicultural vision of America in order to succeed as one of several rationales for the humanities in public life.

Nonetheless, Schneider and Townsend persuasively argue for the importance of the history and the humanities in today’s world, stating that “through the study of history we come to understand the roots, contexts, and complexities of issues we face as citizens.”

Schneider and Townsend, citing cuts to the arts and humanities by United States politicians, warn that “leaders who undervalue ideas, arts, and humanities open the door to plutocrats, despots, factions, violence and chaos — all of the ancient enemies of prosperity, freedom, and democracy.”

Schneider and Townsend’s essay is published in Inside Higher Ed.

This entry was posted in Academic Freedom, Education Policy, Humanities Education. Bookmark the permalink.

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