Even so, I'm more than happy to acknowledge the coherence of socio-political schools of thought (Marxist, New Historicist, et. al.). Hell, they're fine as far as they go, even if a bit dreary and predictable. Besides, it's not their practioners' politics I object to. It's their taste.
I'm a bit less amenable to those apologists who attempt to justify the Humanities as something with practical or "real world" value. And it seems we're at it again. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has just released its report on the urgent need for Humanities education in the 21rst Century. Entitled The Heart of the Matter and composed by a blue ribbon commission of university presidents, former cabinet officials, pop stars and Times columnists, the report argues that Humanities education is vital for the creation of
... an adaptable and creative workforce. Experts in national security, equipped with the cultural understanding, knowledge of social dynamics, and language proficiency to lead our foreign service and military through complex global conflicts. Elected officials and a broader public who exercise civil political discourse, founded on an appreciation of the ways our differences and commonalities have shaped our rich history.Did you catch that? We need to teach Homer and Keats so our students can develop more profitable cell phone apps for their future employers, better infiltrate and understand Al Quaeda networks and tone down the vitriol on talk radio. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for civil discourse and strengthening democratic institutions; I just doubt there's anything in the arts that do this. You learn community by being in community, not by reading Whitman.
The specific goals advanced by this commission are even more curious:
- Educate Americans in the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in the 21rst century.
- Foster a society that is innovative, competitive and strong.
- Equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.
Speaking of interconnectivity, I wonder if anyone on the commission saw the irony of naming the report after Graham Greene's novel, one of whose major themes was the impossibility of truly understanding another person. I also wonder what the commission would make of my blue ribbon recommendations. Or what the heck? Let's just call them what they are: despotic fiats.
- Educate people to confront their mortality and to take seriously the consequences of their actions.
- Foster a society that questions deeply what it means to live a good human life.
- Equip the human heart and mind to search for meaning and to understand their relationship to others.
Or let's put it this way: if you have to justify poetry, you've already missed the point.