American literary critic and Harvard Professor Helen Vendler defends subjects in the humanities for their contributions to the nation’s heritage and as a means to re-establish the forms of thinking that brought us modern intellectual pursuits. In her article titled “Save the Humanities in Our Public Schools,” Vendler says the benefits of studying the humanities in public schools is essential to creating a way of thought that is as valuable as scientific, philosophical and artistic thinking. The humanities can be described as the study of human subjectivity. According to Vendler, the humanities comprise “the study of human expressiveness and its fabrications in the arts, the study of consciousness bent on self-understanding.” Here, we describe the benefits of studying the humanities in public schools and why degrees in the humanities are important to modern society.
Understanding the Humanities
The humanities can be described as the study of human culture. Most disciplines as we know them today have been influenced by humanistic thinkers. Humanities subjects include history, literature, law, philosophy, art and music. The humanities, in many ways, aim to provide meaning to the observable world. Most other disciplines are looking for facts; the humanities seek meaning. Why is this valuable? Without a human context, we risk weakening the moral compass that defines our culture. In science, for instance, studies involving human and animal subjects are required to go through an ethical board. Even our laws are deeply rooted in humanistic considerations. And no matter how far we push the boundaries of art and music, the most successful forms of expression focus on the human condition.
A National Identity
Some thinkers have turned away from the humanities, having decided they are an obsolete discipline. But to Vendler, a nation’s cultural integrity is defined by its achievements in the humanities. She questions how a nation like the United States can maintain its cultural integrity without supporting the humanities. To understand a culture, one must explore past cultural achievements. This means learning about the poets, writers and artists who created humanistic works that explore what it means to be us.
Many nations celebrate their culture by teaching students about great works in art and music. In the United States, such pursuit has been pushed aside — perhaps unintentionally — in a collective desire for specialization and empirical study. Though empirical study is essential, there are real benefits to studying the humanities. After all, humanities subjects have formed the basis of modern science and technology. Earning a degree in the humanities is about recapturing the human element in everything we pursue while providing a historical context.
Earning a Degree in the Humanities
Interested in learning more about humanities subjects? Consider enrolling in an online bachelor of arts in humanities program. UTPB offers concentrations in art, communications, English, history and music. The core curriculum covers world civilization, Western literature, art history and the evolution of music. Each branch of the humanities provides a cultural layer that defines each civilization throughout history. The value of the humanities in education is that they teach us how humankind thought in the past to help guide our thinking in the future. Earning a degree in the humanities can help you better understand modern culture and provide a foundation for self-exploration.
Even as we begin to implement policies to bring back the humanities, our K-12 efforts are lagging behind. As Vendler notes, primary education does not provide nearly enough emphasis on the humanities. When exposure to the humanities is limited at a young age, undergraduates do not arrive at college with the same drive for humanities subjects as they may have for computer science, medicine or engineering. Earning a degree in the humanities is a step toward re-establishing the discipline in U.S. education.
Learn more about the UTPB online Bachelor of Arts in Humanities program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.