Lax Education In Humanities, Social Sciences Sparks Outcry

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A new report argues that humanities and social sciences are as essential to the country's economic and civic future as science and technology. The study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences was commissioned in 2010 by a bipartisan group of members of Congress. It comes at a time when the value of the liberal arts is being challenged by economic and political forces.


After years of focus in Washington, D.C., on improving science and math education in the country, now the humanities community is speaking out. Their message - we matter too - came in the form of a report. That report was released yesterday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And it's raising alarms about the state of education in humanities and social sciences. NPR's Cory Turner has the story.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: First, what is humanities? Think the study of languages, literature, history, philosophy and religion. And according to the report, the humanities - along with social sciences like economics and psychology - are being neglected in America. That's a problem, the report says, because the global economy requires skills that workers can only get studying the humanities. This isn't just about losing the arts; it's about losing money, power, and our place in the world.

PAULINE YU: The world has become interconnected. The more you know about other cultures, about other societies, the better you can function.

TURNER: Pauline Yu is president of the American Council of Learned Societies, and a commissioner behind the report. So is former Ambassador Karl Eikenberry - who says our national security is at stake.

KARL EIKENBERRY: If you're going to make your nation more secure, you have to have a cadre in the business world, in academe, in the military, in the diplomatic corps, that understands the world.

TURNER: The report suggests, among other things, that we double-down on the basics - reading, writing and speaking - and encourage students to learn languages and study abroad. It was requested in 2010 by a bipartisan group of congressmen, including Democrat David Price of North Carolina. He says the humanities don't just help us understand the world, but who we are as Americans.

REP. DAVID PRICE: We need an appreciation of our history, of what binds us together as a country. There's a base of knowledge that's required for good, intelligent citizenship.

TURNER: And the process, Price says, of teaching good citizens is in jeopardy. Cory Turner, NPR News.

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