In my experience the arts and humanities are often seen as fun and interesting, however a dead end if one wants to earn a living and buy the newest gadgets and biggest homes. We may absolutely love writing fiction and debating philosophy, but what in the world will we do with ourselves post-college if we don’t start a business or join corporate America’s zeal for materialism? After all, making money is the key to happiness and sustaining a healthy democracy, right? Get a job and make money. Consume, vote for the prettiest politician, listen to your elders, obey the law, pay taxes, shop, and then shop some more.
As a society we’ve grown accustomed to this pattern and expectation. We watch the news as if it were Divine information and command, without asking, what is really going on here? What is the true situation over there in the Middle East or what does this politician REALLY stand for?
We take so much on faith because someone tells us it’s the truth. Rarely do we engage in healthy, logical arguments and discussion over topics as important as war, the effects of consumerism, the accuracy of our historical texts, or the actual beliefs and practices of our foreign “enemy”.
We engage in “othering”, in seeing the person on the other side of the world as separate, as less human, as associated with disgust, alienation, and lower bodily functions. Our authority figures tell us it’s this way or that, and just because they studied at Harvard or are grossly rich, we believe them and go on dehumanizing people different from us.
I’ve begun reading a book entitled Not For Profit, by Martha C. Nussbaum, which discusses the importance of a well-rounded education including not only technology and science (which are indeed very important) but one that involves creativity, imagination, constructive debate, arts, and writing. Too often in the face of budget cuts and pressures to make more and more money, crucial aspects of a well-rounded education are being forgotten.
The arts and humanities foster individuality, critical thinking, discussion, and also involves the studying of different religions, cultures, and practices all over the world, teaching compassion and understanding. With this compassion and critical thinking students learn to respect others rather than “othering” them, and are equipped with better skills to analyze political debate and think for them selves rather than take orders from an authority figure.
In a compassionate, kind, and Socratic learning environment, members of a society are taught to self-examine as well as challenge norms in day to day life. Nussbaum explains how easy it is to fall into a subservient and sheepish mode of living, simply absorbing what is the supposed truth. We see time and time again the dangers of blind following, as in the case of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and even with such experiments as the Philip Zombardo prison experiment.
Technology and science are increasingly important facets of the education system, and with good reason. However we must not forget the importance of creative innovation and the art of the argument.
We must constantly question authority, question what we see on TV, question what our professors tell us, question what we read, CHALLENGE what we think we know. Foster debate within your self and within your community. Question yourself when you stereotype, when you hear yourself “othering” a person that is different from you.
Transcend the norm and rise above the obedient follower.
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