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January 15, 2010


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I have this odd sense of deja vu...

I don't think the issue is that schools are run like businesses, or even that there is a growing divide between disciplines. The real problem, the immediate one that education needs to tackle, somehow and some way, before we can even get into interdisciplinary education or how schools should be organized or students tested, is the fact that America has become anti-intellectual. The reason that Liltle Johnny doesn't need to be able to recite anything about the Peloponesian War is because we don't value knowledge for knowledge's sake. The reason that science and math have been largely exempt from this anti-intellectual growth is because, as the author notes, science and math largely hide away in the lab, in their own world. No one goes to prison if they espouse an incorrect theory, but likewise, that theory affects no one but their closed circle/colleagues. Science and math have been successful at defining themselves within the Ivory Tower, something the humanities used to have as well, but lost somewhere along the way.

...it's almost like I've had this conversation...

I look forward to reading part two.

As I have come to appreciate from you Daniel, a very thoughtful post. I have been thinking about something along similar lines lately, namely that we as a society have developed great prowess in advancing our technological and economic powers, but have made much less progress in developing our skills at eudaimonics. Owen Flanagan in The Really Hard Problem tells us that eudaimonics is the naturalistic inquiry into the constituents and causes of happiness, which Aristotle wisely said is what everybody wants more than anything else. It seems to me that we have taken the easy route because we can - there is little argument that the tools of technology have been impressive. What we need from the humanities are equally accessible, scalable, and useful tools for enhancing eudaimonia. Now that would be a killer app.

Hi Kelly,

As we discussed over email, I think your account complements his nicely. And I do think a major issue is that schools are run like businesses, or more precisely, are run like businesses in the sense that productivity, capital, and often enough, revenue, are far and away the primary goals.


Thanks much for the kind words. I agree completely that we have taken the easy route because we can. Yet even this choice can be understood in context of the humanities, as persons like Montaigne made perfectly clear the task of essaying oneself is neither easy nor particularly quick. So too are the reflective tasks of the humanities, IMO.

But your emphasis on the quality of the tools humanities practitioners use is also crucial -- many of them, frankly, are actually harmful rather than being simply useless (see Part II for details).

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