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De-Mystifying the Humanities

Often shrouded in the mysteries of ancient texts, perceptions about what the humanities are and why we need them might persist until students enter a university classroom. A perhaps counter-intuitive model also exists, however; introduce them earlier:

"If you look at what allows people to succeed at college-level math," says Grant, "you have to look at the foundation they receive from K through 12." It’s important to build those foundations, surely, but Grant participates in the program mostly because he enjoys it. "It’s a pleasure to be around these young people and help them develop," he said.

Talented youngsters take humanities courses in the summer, too, but professors don’t usually teach them. In fact, humanities professors rarely have anything to do with high-school students at all — or with their teachers.

That indifference has a long history. It was the general disdain of professors for the kindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum that drove primary and secondary schoolteachers to start their own disciplinary associations before World War II. (Robert B. Townsend tells the story of this schism — through the prism of the discipline of history — in his excellent 2013 book, History’s Babel.

But there’s a notable exception to all this knee-jerk indifference among humanities faculty: the classics. Classics professors care about high-school teaching, and high-school teachers. The teachers return the favor. I’ve attended a couple of classics conferences, and been amazed by the collegiality and genuine regard that the high-school and college teachers show for each other’s work.

Classics as the route to a K-12 humanities foundation is one brand kind of irony we can get behind. Integrating language with cultural understanding presents a clear connection to the concepts of which we are in most need - reason, argument and respect - to cultivate humanists of every age. Wonderful reflection and a great way to start the week. Read the whole thing.

Image: Kevin Van Aelst for The CHE.

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