For the last few weeks there has been much written about the arts and humanities programs being shut down in our nation’s colleges and universities. Both Stanley Fish, and the president of Cornell University, David J Skorton had articles on the subject in the NY Times. This week the Boston Globe weighs in: “College Leaders Work to Increase Interest in Humanities” – The Boston Globe
The articles and discussions describe how universities, to save money, are cutting out humanities and arts departments – justifying it by saying students aren’t filling these classes. Is it really possible an educated person in the United States doesn’t need to know anything about the arts, literature, history, philosophy, language? Why is it that places like China and Singapore are adding these subjects to their universities if they aren’t needed?
Haven’t we been saying that if we want an innovative and creative work force we can’t all be specialists? That we need flexible educated minds? The Boston Globe article talks about students not signing up for humanities and arts classes. Why? Here’s the elephant in the room. They haven’t had these classes in any comprehensive form in their first 12 years of school. If you cut music, art, language, specialized literature classes, theater, poetry and the like from elementary school to high school and you teach only to the “test”, students will arrive at college without the necessary skills and knowledge to even begin to know what they want to learn. Learning these subjects can enhance one’s ability to function in any profession. I studied at The Juilliard School (a very special trade school) for both my Bachelors and Masters degrees. It’s different today but when I was there our studies of subjects other than music was sharply limited. I realized that if I wanted to understand the many references in the music I was studying I needed to become much better read in both world literature and history. I procured reading lists from several liberal arts colleges and proceeded to read through the lists. It was invaluable to me and became my habit in all my artistic projects. When I became a professor I required the same of my flute students. The point is that if we continue to cut the arts and humanities from our public education system we will inevitably lose students and eventually vital core departments in our universities nationwide. This is something that we can’t afford if we want to remain competitive.