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Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities

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  • Posted August 19, 2012

    Should be required reading for everybody interested in education - highly recommended!

    Why do we need the humanities? Martha Nussbaum argues that the humanities offer insight into other cultures, other values and teach an appreciation for the complexity of the world beyond what we see close at hand in our day to day life. Activities such as philosophical discourse (alas Socrates), a critical reading of history, participating in drama, reading and writing poetry and fiction help us see what life is like through the eyes of persons with whom we are not familiar. These other groups of people extend beyond just those who are geographically remote from us, and include people from different economic backgrounds, other ‘races’ , other religions, other genders and people with different sexual orientations. Critical and creative thinking in the humanities teaches us to look for gaps in what we’re told by society and to consider the assumptions behind the values given to us by society. But while advocating the need for the humanities, Prof. Nussbaum reminds the reader on a number of occasions that she is *not* arguing against science/engineering/economic education. Rather, she is arguing that society needs the humanities in addition to these fields, and while the sciences are growing, the humanities are under attack on many fronts. One reason for this growing lack of support is the perception that an education in the humanities is not as employable as an education in (for example) engineering and the skills learned from the humanities may not seem as critical to economic growth. But she and others (e.g., Jean-Jacques Rousseau, American philosopher John Dewey and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore) note that central to the humanities are critical thinking and creativity skills that many employers value highly in their senior staff, and that economic growth as measured by the GNP is not necessarily the best measure of the health of a society since it does not take into account the disparities of wealth, the quality of life or educational opportunities available to all citizens. This very readable book summarizes many points that concerned readers should bring to the attention of local school boards, state educators and university administrators. If Prof. Nussbaum had included statistics showing changes in funding for the humanities, or even a list of institutions that have cut back on their humanities programs, I would have given this book a 5-star rating. But this lack of more widespread supporting quantitative data, which decision makers will certainly ask about, does not detract from the main message of the book. Anybody interested in education will be glad to have read ‘Not for Profit’.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 21, 2011

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