Why Teach Humanities?

Literature, Art, History, Government, Design, Music, Composition, Law, Politics, Archaeology, and Anthropology.

“The arts and humanities teach us who we are and what we can be. They lie at the very core of the culture of which we are a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflections of freedom’s light.”
President Ronald Reagan, 40th President of The United States

That quote is from one of my favorite U.S. Presidents. “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be.” Wow.

When discussing the Humanities, many people envision a group of artsy-craftsy people with long, free-flowing hair standing barefoot in a circle in the woods, singing old folk songs. A bit hippy-dippy, if you will, with no serious study. I like old folk songs, but I would never stand barefoot in the woods; I teach my students to study seriously and prefer they wear shoes.

I see the importance of pursuing the good and the beauty of God’s creation and how studying it can help students develop their creativity and critical thinking skills necessary for all fields, the arts or not. The study of the humanities allows us to develop the imagination God gave us to problem solve, think out of the box, and find God’s creative touch in the world around us.

Here’s another quote:
It is convenient truth: you go into the humanities to pursue your intellectual passion, and it just so happens, as a by-product, you emerge as a desired commodity for industry.” Damon Horowitz, American Conservative writer  

Sometimes students take a “creative” class because they like drawing or reading. Then BAM! they realize that their passion is valuable and can become, as the quote says, “a desired commodity for industry.” How fantastic to have a job that lets you use your creative passion!

Last quote:
“I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid. Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and science, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do”.  
Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur, inventor, business magnate, and media proprietor

“…standing at the intersection of humanities and science.” How often do we see creativity and the sciences meet? Always. We don’t have to look far to see this in our time.

Have you been around a group of engineers talking about their jobs? They use words like elegant and refined, two words that we typically hear when discussing art or literature, not machinery. Ever listen to software designers? Don’t tell them they make software; they will correct you by saying they create it. Ask a musician to explain the whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes; without knowing it, you will be learning fractions! As a primarily non-math person, I can still appreciate the creativity in Algebra. A surgeon of mine even remarked on how sutures he gave me were pretty. An intersection of humanities and science indeed! Fostering creativity through the humanities enhances the STEM skills we teach children by building those creative thinking skills, asking a student, “How are you going to do the impossible?”

Some think that teaching students to ask “Why?” can foster distrust of the absolute truth. I don’t believe this. After all, truth is truth. We know that five plus five will always equal ten and that a word has only one correct spelling. We know that an answer to a factual question is either correct or incorrect. My teachers did not allow me to make up my spellings or declare that a Math answer was mostly right. I believe that studying the humanities will encourage students to ask, “Why is this true?” as they discover the reason behind the truth. When opinions and discussions are appropriate, learning to think critically and creatively through discussing the humanities is terrific.

The Value of Teaching The Humanities

  1. They reveal The Good and The Beautiful of God’s creation.
  2. They teach students to think critically and logically with complex and sometimes imperfect information.
  3. They foster creativity and encourage imagination.
  4. They teach empathy by exploring the why and how behind the what.
  5. They build writing and listening skills. 
  6. They reveal how people throughout history tried to make spiritual, moral, and intellectual sense of the world around them.
  7. They help students weigh the evidence and consider all sides of a question before finding the correct answer.
  8. They help to foster lifelong learners.