humanities essay structure

humanities essay structure

The Importance of Humanities in Education

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1. Introduction

Dewey’s article goes on to state that the purpose of humanities is to help us learn about people and how they have responded to the world around them. The humanities teach empathy and understanding as processes of learning about people from around the world, of different cultures and traditions. Dewey finishes his article by stating, “It is impossible to know everything, but the humanities offer a deep and broad education about people and how they have behaved, is, or will be.” This is a good argument for the importance of the humanities. We may not be able to know everything, but the truth is that we do not know everything about our own existence, past, and future. The humanities help to answer these questions and attempt to decipher the mysteries of our existence.

The question has been asked about whether or not the humanities are important. Russ Dewey answers this question in his article, “Humanities: What and Why?” He includes a quote from former President of the United States, Harry Truman: “The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.” Dewey uses this quote to prove that everything that has been answered, discovered, or created in the past and is still available to us today is knowledge. This quote serves Dewey well in stating that without knowledge of our past and all the events that have led to present time, we are ignorant of our existence as humans.

Humanities, or the study of how people process and document the human experience, are just as crucial as sciences in the education of a well-rounded individual. The humanities lead to the understanding and appreciation of the arts, literature, and language. These subjects help the student learn to speak, read, and write effectively. Any learned skill that enables communication within a society or culture, the humanities have influenced.

2. The Value of Humanities Education

To suggest that studying the humanities is a waste of time because it does not lead to a specific career is short-sighted. The ability to think, to understand and to assess the world in which we live is of infinite importance. Learning the value of the humanities seems to be the most pressing educational task today in America, its importance stressed by campus after campus being eliminated by humanities departments. One of the largest arguments that is played in this field today is the fact that society does not understand the value of the humanities. Once this is understood, and society at large sees the connections between good humanist education and an enriched, more fulfilling and rewarding life, the preservation of humanities education will no longer be an issue we are fighting for. This is the most critical point, one that is intended to disarm all cynics. A key critique of humanities education is that such education does not directly lead to high paying employment. This is true. But on the topic, Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow once said to a businessman: “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?” so stripping the humanities from many forms of education is not entirely in the best interest for the future which Solow raises an important point to question. We need engaged citizens, and employment is not the only goal of an education. The humanities are an entry to literacy, to critical thinking, to asking and answering the big questions, and are an essential means to understand our world and our fellow human beings. Given this, humanities are an essential form of knowledge in a society increasingly defined by science and technology. And as such, these subjects are an important prerequisite knowledge base for many professions, especially in the areas of social services and public relations. Through the ability to think, to connect and to assess, the value of the humanities is driven home. The ability of the humanities to develop deep critical thinking skills is greatly significant, and is perhaps the biggest value of humanities education. In a time of culturally diverse, global society, the ability to understand and to interpret cultures is a vitally important skill. The arts, literature, and the other forms of expression of any given culture say much about its way of life – past and present. It is the way of understanding these things which sparks an internal sense of curiosity, and it is this which drives a student to ask, for example, “Why is there racism against the indigenous peoples of a given culture?” or “What can medieval literature tell us about the way of life of that time?” Internalizing these kinds of questions then approach the diagnostic competencies about which educators have been enthusing over for the last twenty years. Also the understanding of language, its structure, and its usage in the form of writings and verbal communication can serve as a very important tool in the teaching of literacy and functional literacy, and can address the writing skills of a large number of students. This in itself may benefit the education of slower people, as well as providing an extra dimension to the modern teaching of English.

3. Skills Developed through Humanities Studies

Skills are not inherent; they must be learned, practiced, repeated, and improved. The humanities develop a set of skills that are invaluable because they are the foundation for further learning. Language skills are obviously higher than average in literary studies, but this is not the only medium through which humans learn about language. Linguistics, the study of language structure and development, is a component of the humanities as well. In philosophy, much of what has held sway as ‘important’ knowledge is expressed in literary form, and only in recent decades has been ‘translated’ into a form suitable for empirical testing. Through training in areas such as analysis of literary text or the reconstruction of past philosophies, skills are developed which are applicable in many areas outside the specific field being studied. But the most significant achievement of humanities scholars is primary source reading. Whether it be learning to read ancient Greek philosophical texts, medieval treatises on logic or documents from recent history, the emphasis on accurate understanding of the written word is a skill that is quickly being lost in today’s sound-bite society. This is not simply a linguistic exercise; conciseness is a form of clarity, but reductivity can result in oversimplification. To understand the implications of an event in history, or the meaning of an old document, complex thinking is needed. It is easy to affirm this skill in one humanities discipline, but it is often underestimated how much it improves general ability. This is best proven when humanities students cross into natural and social sciences and outperform their ‘unilingual’ colleagues. Finally, the need for critical thinking in humanities is paramount. While ‘critical thinking’ is a term much bandied about today, it is a sad fact that much of what goes under the name of ‘critical thought’ is little more than comprehension with an air of skepticism. True critical thought is the assessing of an idea on its own merits, the ability to ask the right questions, and taking nothing for granted. Because humanities study is so diverse, it is not possible to give one set of methods which can be applied to all tasks, and so the ability to assess the best approach to a problem is an invaluable asset.

4. Humanities and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is an essential skill in the classroom. With the implementation of the new Common Core standards, it is obvious that humanities are essential. By focusing on the standards of critical thinking, reading, writing, speaking and listening, and research, humanities force students to think critically about the world. For instance, in social studies, students not only learn history but also why events happened, the outcomes of the events, and how history shaped the world today. This learning requires students to go beyond the memorization of facts. By questioning and analyzing historical events, students are able to build the essential skills of critical thinking. This is also important in English as students delve into various pieces of literature. Through discussion and analysis of the work, students are forced to formulate opinions and take a stand, which is essential to learning how to think and write critically. The act of writing about one’s opinions is essential to critical thought and is the centerpiece in all humanities classes. Finally, the act of research, a Common Core standard, is deeply entrenched in humanities. Through research papers and projects, students are taught how to think critically about their topic, form an argument, analyze various information, and defend their position. Overall, if the goal of education is to produce critical thinkers, the necessity of the humanities is glaring. Another style of critical thinking which is important to understand is differentiating between critical thinking as taught through the humanities and between raw logic and reasoning. For instance, it may be thought that mathematics is the epitome of critical thought in schools; therefore, the study of math and logic would be most beneficial to students. However, raw logic in itself is a series of skills separate from critical thinking. In studying logic and mathematics, students learn how to analyze an argument or statement, identify the argument, and test the argument for soundness and validity. Though these are also skills taught in the humanities, the nature of the analysis in logic is more structure-based, with a focus on whether or not a certain argument is sound, rather than learning the context and understanding the meanings which shaped the argument.

5. Conclusion

In this materialistic world, people are only willing to pursue things that will gain material for them. This ideal has concreted in today’s society that money is the most important thing. Money is useful, but it will only provide a limited amount of happiness. People need to pursue things that make them happy, whether it be playing music, painting, or working nine to five. The arts are expressions of the self. When children are barred from these experiences at a young age, they may never have the courage to pursue them in the future. But if people are given the opportunity to express themselves, society as a whole will benefit. Imagine a world without music, art, and film. It would be a world without emotion. We would be no different from robots. In order to avoid these circumstances, we need to provide humanities education from a young age.

The importance of Humanities in Education. A boy goes to a private school. He attends the highest level of education and he gets an A+. His parents bash him, saying that he must be a doctor when he wants to pursue a career as a flutist. His parents will say no. They will not let him pursue his dream. This sad truth is too common today. Too many parents live vicariously through their children and expect them to attain the same status in society that they have.

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