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Monday, June 13, 2011

Chapter 2: Education for Profit, Education for Democracy

Hi everyone!

First of all, thanks to Alisa, Amit, Lisa and Peyton for inviting me to join this conversation, and to John especially for setting a high bar with the first post – and for not shying away from his snarky side. I’m a big fan of Martha Nussbaum and her work, but I’m not a big fan of this book for many of the same reasons that John laid out in his comments on chapter 1.

I’ve been asked to comment on chapter 2, “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy.” This chapter, like the one that follows it, fits kind of awkwardly into the overall structure of the book. In chapter 1 Nussbaum lays out the claim that the humanities are in crisis and names three abilities that she says are cultivated by a humanistic education and essential to a healthy democracy: “the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and…the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.” (p. 7) These become the focus of chapters 4, 5 and 6, respectively.

Chapters 2 and 3 draw on Nussbaum’s recent work on the “capabilities approach” in developmental economics – e.g. in Women and Human Development and the recently published Creating Capabilities – and on the role of the emotions in cognitive and developmental psychology – e.g. in Upheavals of Thought and Hiding from Humanity. The idea is that before we show how the humanities can help to create a healthy democracy, we have to know what a healthy democracy would look like (pp. 14, 27-8), but the arguments that she offers are only loosely connected to that theme, and the whole sequence feels like a bit of a detour.

Chapter 2 centers around the contrast between the “growth” and “human development” paradigms in development economics. This is a little strange, since Not for Profit is about the state of education in the United States, Europe, and India, and the development literature really only speaks to the latter case. Nussbaum argues, drawing on the work of Amartya Sen, that GDP growth is an inadequate measure of social progress, and that we therefore have reason to favor humanistic over growth-oriented or business-friendly educational policies. This is also a little strange, since she emphasizes at several points elsewhere in the book (e.g. pp. 10, 52-3, 112) that a humanistic education is essential for economic growth as well as for democracy, and that the more astute partisans of growth realize this (maybe the book should have been called Not Only for Profit). She goes on to make a kind of social justice argument, suggesting that “moral obtuseness is necessary to carry out programs of economic development that ignore inequality,” and that “art is a great enemy of that obtuseness.” (p. 23) But even if we believe that a humanistic education makes one less likely to engage in economic exploitation (I don’t), this strikes me as a pretty slender reed on which to rest a defense of the humanities.

Rather than focus on this line of argument, I’d like to use the rest of this post to raise some broader questions about the nature of the defense of the humanities that’s offered here.

What surprised me most about this book is how little Nussbaum has to say about the experience of being moved by literature, art, music, philosophy, etc. We all care about the humanities, I take it, because we’ve all had, and learned to crave, that buzzy, exhilarated feeling that you get when something is beautifully expressed, or when some new insight changes the way you look at the world. I don’t think we can really make a case for studying the humanities – if by that term we mean the traditional elements of a “liberal” education – unless we put this feeling at center stage. I imagine, for example, though I don't know from firsthand experience, that there’s plenty of critical inquiry, global thinking and empathetic role-taking going on in business or law school when the students work through the latest cases. In some ways this is probably a more efficient way of imparting these skills than a traditional liberal education, since the material is less recondite and the stated aim is to figure out how to serve the interests of customers or clients rather than, say, understanding why philosophers should be kings. But I take it that Nussbaum, like most of us, would want to say that something important is missing from such an education.

So what can we say about buzzy exhilaration (for lack of a better term) from a democratic standpoint? It’s definitely an elevating feeling, if only because, like most rewarding experiences, it offers us a chance to forget about ourselves for a while. But I’m not convinced that it’s a morally elevating feeling, let alone that it tends to lead to good citizenship. In some ways it’s an obviously selfish feeling – one for the sake of which we’re often tempted to neglect our other duties, civic or otherwise. So I’m less inclined than Nussbaum is to defend a humanistic education on instrumental grounds, and more inclined simply to treat it as one of the things that makes life worth living – and to argue that we have an obligation as democrats to make it available to as many people as possible.

The problem with this way of framing the issue, of course, is that a lot of people don’t seem to be very interested in having such an education made available to them. This fact, and this whole way of talking – an enlightened “we” making something available to a benighted “they” – helps to explain the persistent view that the humanities are an “elitist” enterprise whose democratic credentials are therefore suspect. That’s an easy view to dismiss for those of us who don’t come from especially privileged backgrounds and who were brought to love the humanities – sometimes despite our initial resistance – by inspiring and dedicated mentors. But we should keep in mind that however we came to it, a conspicuous love of the humanities is just as surely a marker of status as any other kind of conspicuous consumption.

This brings us to another odd feature of Nussbaum’s book: the fact that it’s addressed mostly to elites – politicians, business leaders, educational administrators, etc. – rather than to the actual “consumers” of education; namely students and (indirectly) their parents. I think that this focus on the supply rather than the demand side of the equation gets things exactly backwards. In my experience it isn’t myopic administrators or sinister business interests who are imposing a “growth-oriented” agenda on students; the situation is nearer the reverse, as students – especially working class students, whose presence in college is one of the great democratic victories of the American educational system – demand a more “practical” curriculum. If we’re going to “save” the humanities (assuming that they really need saving), then that’s where the saving will have to be done.

This brings us back, finally, to the question of the relationship between the humanities and economic development. Aristotle, about whom Nussbaum knows a thing or two, says that a liberal education – the kind of education that’s suitable for a free person – presupposes the existence of leisure (scholÄ“, the root of the English scholar), and is fundamentally concerned with the question of how to use one’s leisure well. Needless to say leisure time tends to vary directly with prosperity, and so there’s reason to think not only that a liberal education is a necessary condition for prosperity, but also that a certain level of prosperity is a necessary condition for an appreciation of a liberal education.

Necessary, but not sufficient. I remember teaching this part of Aristotle years ago during my first (not very successful) attempt at leading a large lecture class. I ended the lecture with the following thought experiment:

“Imagine that there was nothing in the world that you had to do: that you didn’t have to worry about making money, or getting good grades, or getting married or raising kids, or pleasing your parents, or whatever it is that you have to do, or think you have to do, in your life right now. Imagine that you were perfectly free in that sense, perfectly free from necessities. What would you do? Many of us wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t have some external goal, like money or power or status or even just trying to please other people, to get us out of bed in the morning. But some of us, Aristotle thinks, would have the wisdom to use an opportunity like that to make something out of ourselves: to cultivate our higher faculties, to enjoy the finer things that life has to offer, and to make and do things that are worthy of admiration. That’s the test for Aristotle of whether a person is liberally educated or not; whether they would be able to make good use of their freedom if they had it. It’s not necessarily up to us to decide whether an opportunity like that will ever come our way; that’s largely a matter of fortune, as Aristotle says. But it is up to us to decide what we would do with the opportunity if we had it.”

This was a bright spot in an otherwise spotty semester of teaching: I could see the students’ faces relax and brighten as I was speaking, and when the lecture ended there was that buzz in the room that you always like to hear after a class. The lesson that I took from that experience was that teaching students to value a liberal education isn’t necessarily a matter of teaching them to be less selfish and more other-directed than they are; most of them have plenty of worries and responsibilities as it is. In some ways the challenge is to teach them to be more selfish – to want things out of life that they didn’t realize they wanted, or could want. If we want to make the cultivation of the humanities one of the aims of our democracy – and please notice I’m phrasing this as a conditional – then I think that’s the tack we should take.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve tried to write down my thoughts on this subject, and I’m sure that I’ll change my mind about some of them as you all respond. But the nice thing about blogging is that it gives us a chance to be wrong in real time instead of being wrong in slow motion, which is the usual fate of academic writing. So … have at it!

17 comments:

Lisa Ellis said...

Thanks, Eric, for giving us so much to think about this morning! Among the many things I want to say, let me choose just one for now: the wonderful example of a buzzy-exhilaration-generating moment in humanities teaching. I think that Eric agrees with John and pretty much everyone else who's commented so far that Nussbaum's use of a nostalgic trope for humanities education is unfortunate and inaccurate. As Eric says, broad availability of the humanistic experience is one of the great successes of modern democracy. The question (or at least, an important question) is thus how to make the experience available more substantially and more often than it is now. As Nussbaum and John have both acknowledged, these experiences have always been threatened. What is new is the nature of the challenge. Rote learning, facile elitism, and exclusionary practices once weakened the experience of the humanities; these are for the most part no longer our problems. Now we face new threats. I can't name them all here (I'm especially leaving out political and cultural attacks here), but I'll mention one that we might want to dicuss. As Eric wisely notes, these experiences of buzzy exhilaration require leisure. Umberto Eco once complained that modern dress practices, and especially tight jeans, are too distracting for the life of the mind, which was better served by loose robes and a monkish cubicle :)

The modern equivalent of the monkish cubicle, in which dorms and dining halls relieve students from the tasks of daily life, is available only to a tiny minority of students today. The Academically Adrift study that came out this spring reported declining hours spent on study among American undergraduates, to a probably overestimated average of 12 per week. In short, the prerequisites for Eric's buzzy exhilaration experience are often missing in students lives.

What can we do as teachers to respond to this problem? Eric provides a great example. Note that it's fundamentally an exercise in the students' own reflective capacities. When Nussbaum celebrates Indian technical universities' new efforts in humanities education, I worry that far from imitating Eric's example, they are likely doing what so many required, brief, spoon-fed "humanities for engineers" efforts do, which is confirm those engineers' previous suspicions about the uselessness and elitism of humanistic education. I remember one such course, required for students in an engineering college, which essentially offered a dogma per week aimed at curing the engineers' presumed narrow-mindedness with doses of correct pap. Needless to say, the course was a hated failure. How can we do more to encourage buzzy exhilaration? How can we correct current counterproductive practices like the course I've just described?

Lisa Ellis said...

Oh, and I can't help endorsing Eric's proposed revision of the title :)

James Bourke said...

Like Eric, I was left perplexed by Nussbaum’s turn to the economic development literature in Chapter Two. When I read Chapter One, I was eager to see Nussbaum’s case for the contributions of humanistic education to democratic citizenship fleshed out. The prospect appealed to my intuitions (or maybe just my biases), and it seemed like it would be a promising counterattack to the careerist model of education that Nussbaum warns of. But Chapter Two has me scratching my head, and wondering if her case for the democratic potential of humanities education is falling apart before it even gets going.

As Eric noted, there’s a curious disconnect between the subject matter of economic development and Nussbaum’s own subject matter. Nussbaum claims that a conception of development gives a model for how a nation, any nation, can “advance” (p. 14). But it seems to me that development economics is directed to specific problems of underdevelopment faced by specific nations, and doesn’t purport to speak to the agendas of “advanced industrial democracies” (except inasmuch as their findings have implications for aid etc.). These are important issues, to be sure, but what connection they have to a general ideal of democratic life is not exactly clear.

Nussbaum hints at a connection by bringing in the human development model, and specifically her own “capabilities approach.” Human development might provide a basis for expanding our view beyond problems of underdevelopment, because underlying this approach is an account of (a minimum threshold for) human well-being or flourishing. But again the connection to democracy is unclear. Are we talking about the conditions for living well (a direction Eric encourages), or are we talking about an ideal of democratic citizenship? And again, the frame of economic development seems to set our sights at escape from inhuman conditions associated with desperate poverty, whereas Nussbaum needs a case for a much more robust and substantial set of capacities than such a minimum threshold.

All this leaves me wondering where Nussbaum’s argument for a connection between humanities education and democratic citizenship can go. Eric’s reservations about the lack of any obvious connection between the elevating “buzzy exhilaration” of engaging a compelling work and moral elevation compound the difficulties. Here, I’d like to propose a possible route for rehabilitating such a connection, and, with it, perhaps an argument that the humanities matter for democratic life. My sense is that the value of humanistic education is that it can (not will or must, but can) expand our imaginative capacities—we may learn to see the world from more, and more complex, perspectives through engaging apt representations in art, literature, philosophy, etc. Perhaps the best argument is that this is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for moral elevation. Imaginative capacities are a crucial ingredient for morally sensitive citizens—without them, citizens will be morally obtuse. But if such capacities are cultivated, through humanities education, then at least the possibility of moral elevation will exist.

Amit Ron said...

Thanks for the post, Eric. It made me think about the conception of the humanities that underlie my own teaching, particularly at the introductory level. We have in front of us three purposes for education. The first is education as providing skills for the workplace. The second is of education for democracy. The third, which Eric adds, is “education as elevation.” For me, the third is the least appealing as a justification for our collective enterprise. I don’t think that I am trying to design my courses so that they will elevate and I don’t think that the way I am teaching brings any elevation. It is not that I am against exhilaration in general; I just don’t think about my teaching in this way. For motivating the students, I do provide some appeals to skills that can be useful in the workplace For example, I tell them that learning how to communicate their ideas in writing is an important skill that can serve them well when they write business memos or legal briefs. But mostly, I think about my introductory courses as providing the students with basic tools that they need to understand and participate in political discussions, very much along the list that Nussbaum provides on pages 25-26 (reflect, debate, appreciate diversity, understand complexity, etc). Of course, in upper-level courses I am trying to make sure that students are exposed to the relevant scholarly literature so that they can become part of the academic discipline. However, in the context of the public institution and college where I am currently teaching, much of my teaching effort is focused on the first set of skills.

Also, when I try to cultivate the skills that are necessary for becoming active citizens, don’t think I am trying to make the students less or more selfish. The point is to allow them to have a more complex understanding of their self-interest, at least as it relates to political issues.

I therefore don’t think about my teaching in terms of the nexus of exhilaration -- freedom as leisure -- black robes. Am I wrong about it?

Amit Ron said...

Thanks for the post, Eric. It made me think about the conception of the humanities that underlie my own teaching, particularly at the introductory level. We have in front of us three purposes for education. The first is education as providing skills for the workplace. The second is of education for democracy. The third, which Eric adds, is “education as elevation.” For me, the third is the least appealing as a justification for our collective enterprise. I don’t think that I am trying to design my courses so that they will elevate and I don’t think that the way I am teaching brings any elevation. It is not that I am against exhilaration in general; I just don’t think about my teaching in this way. For motivating the students, I do provide some appeals to skills that can be useful in the workplace For example, I tell them that learning how to communicate their ideas in writing is an important skill that can serve them well when they write business memos or legal briefs. But mostly, I think about my introductory courses as providing the students with basic tools that they need to understand and participate in political discussions, very much along the list that Nussbaum provides on pages 25-26 (reflect, debate, appreciate diversity, understand complexity, etc). Of course, in upper-level courses I am trying to make sure that students are exposed to the relevant scholarly literature so that they can become part of the academic discipline. However, in the context of the public institution and college where I am currently teaching, much of my teaching effort is focused on the first set of skills.

Also, when I try to cultivate the skills that are necessary for becoming active citizens, I don’t think I am trying to make the students less or more selfish. The point is to allow them to have a more complex understanding of their self-interest, at least as it relates to political issues. I also do not think about my teaching in terms of “moral elevation.” Perhaps what I am doing is morally elevating in some way but the terms itself is not part of my pedagogical vocabulary.

Is this too limited understanding of what we are doing (or should be doing) in teaching political theory for undergraduates?

John said...

See Stanley Fish's "Triumph of the Humanities" piece in today's NYTimes: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/the-triumph-of-the-humanities/
Is Nussbaum's understanding of the humanities simply too traditional? Geo-Political Theory anyone?

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay said...

As much as I love the “buzzy exhilaration” I get from reading great works in the humanities, I agree with Amit that this is the least appealing aspect on which to defend the humanities - especially those that see little value in the humanities. We must remember that we are the wrong audience for these arguments - we already like the humanities. For those that do not, the promise of feelings of “buzzy exhilaration” won't help. In fact, it sounds a little suspicious - what is that book laced with?

I'm interested in a different line of argument that uses Nussbaum's focus on education for growth as inspiration. As Nussbaum points out, the decline of the humanities may be connected to their lack of utility for economic growth. (Ignoring, for a moment, her arguments that they can also help growth.) This is due to the focus on growth, education for jobs, etc. that everyone currently bandies about.

However, what if we added education for "democratic" growth or "civic" growth? What if our aim in educating students was to create good citizens? Imagine politicians discussing how they would enhance citizenship through education, not the job skills. I think, fundamentally, what Nussbaum's focus on education for growth highlights is that our priorities are crossed. Or, at least, we might benefit from having additional priorities.

Ultimately, unless we expand our conception of education (and by we, I mean the critics of humanities) beyond simple preparation for work, than we won't get very far.

The values of the humanities that Nussbaum highlights - that they cultivate critical thought, respect for others, empathy - are anathema to humanities' critics. Those arguments won't work. Most citizens and students believe they think for themselves by default and it would be difficult, even foolish, to try and convince them otherwise. In addition, cultivating care for others, etc. sounds like subversion to them.

One last point: Nussbaum argues that the American educational model is open to critical thought, but I'd be careful with this. What we've done is relegate critical thought to the "ghetto" of the humanities. For example, there is little critical thought in an economics department - they do not critically discuss Marx.

Jason DiGianni

Eric MacGilvray said...

Thanks, everyone, for the terrific comments. A few quick reactions.

Amit – All three of the pedagogical goals that you name are of course worthy ones, and I’m the last person to tell someone else how to teach. My thought was that if our goal is to defend the humanities – to convince people that they’re valuable and worth preserving – then the third purpose that you name, the one that I talked about in my post, is the one to focus on, because it’s the one that distinguishes the humanities from other subjects. Students can learn to write well by writing about almost anything, and in my experience pure writing classes – the kind that you find in writing centers – aren’t very humanistically oriented. So if I was just trying to teach students to write, I wouldn’t assign them Plato or Locke, because the language and the ideas are such a barrier. Similarly, if I was just trying to teach students to think critically about politics, then I’d have them read newspapers and political speeches, and maybe some textbooks for institutional and theoretical background. But I wouldn’t assign Rousseau or even Marx, because it seems to me that there are more efficient ways of getting there. So what is it about the liberal arts – philosophy, literature, art, music, etc. – that makes them worth studying in their own right? I’m thrown back on their first-order qualities. As long as we’re defending them on other grounds, it seems to me that we’re going to be, well, on the defensive.

James – I completely agree with what you (and Nussbaum) have to say about the role of humanities in expanding our imaginative capacities. I wrongly downplayed that by expressing myself in, shall we say, more phenomenological terms. But I’m still not convinced that this is a politically or even necessary a morally elevating thing to do, because it seems to me that having an expanded imagination is just as likely to alienate us from as to connect us to other people. In other words, there’s a difference between seeing connections and feeling connected.

Jason – right, our clientele isn’t necessarily predisposed to buy whatever line we’re selling, and they’re pretty good at sniffing out (and tuning out) didacticism, whether it has to do with expanded imagination or good citizenship. As a wise philosopher once said, “these things must be done deeeeelicately…” The best that I can do as a teacher is try to convey my own passion for the material and hope that some of it rubs off. I figured out after a couple of years of teaching that most of my students carry very little substantive knowledge out of my classes – after a year they’re not going to remember what Aristotle meant by citizenship or what Hobbes meant by natural law. What they might remember, if I do my job right, is that it’s possible to be excited about ideas.

And c’mon people, Lisa blames the decline of the humanities on TIGHT JEANS. We should be able to get a few more people to jump in on this.

James Bourke said...

Jason, I wonder if you could expand a bit on your proposal of reclaiming the language of "growth" to include not just economic growth, but also democratic or civic growth. It seems like an interesting suggestion that could have significant strategic value, inasmuch as it reorients an already-accepted model instead of arguing that the focus on growth is wrong and an alternative model is the right one.

But I'm curious about what substantial content you might have in mind for the claim that humanities education is integral to democratic or civic growth. In particular, I'm interested to know how you'd pursue this line of thought, given your rejection of Nussbaum's focus on critical thought, imagination, respect for others, etc. Nussbaum's claim is that these are precisely the civic capacities democracy needs. But you are suggesting an argument about the civic or democratic contribution of humanities education that involves some other capacities (or maybe not capacities but something else). So I'm curious about what you have in mind--perhaps this is a good line of thought for addressing concerns that have come up that Nussbaum is over-reliant on cliches and platitudes that only speak to those of us who are already convinced of the value of the humanities.

Claire said...

There is also this article that just appeared in the NYT: "The Humanist in the Foxhole"
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/opinion/15Kaplan.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

Claire Katz

Tom said...

I am not sure what the precise connection is between an education in the humanities and the Aristotelian project of "living well." But Nussbaum herself argued in earlier work that living well required some form of socialism as its support. Late she changed her mind, for reasons that were never fleshed out, and now believes that a Rawlsian liberal polity does the trick. Neither of these are exactly arguments that living well requires democracy, a view that Aristotle himself rejected.

Jay said...

James,

I think reclaiming the language of growth forces us to reconsider the purpose of education. While reading Nussbaum's criticism of the economic growth model, I kept asking, "If the goal of education is NOT solely to set me up to find a job (as most people now think it is) then what is the purpose of education?" Ultimately, I believe education is still about growth, but growth to what end? I think democratic growth or civic growth could work. So, yes, the strategy is to use the commonly accepted line of thought concerning education for growth, but suggest the possibility that growth towards other ends is possible.

As for substance, I fear we'll get derailed into arguments about the canon or a core curriculum. However, humanities education should not only provide the capacities Nussbaum identifies, but also create a common set of references upon which citizens draw. For the humanities to be useful from the perspective of democratic society, they should provide a common set of experiences, encounters and references. I'm not sure what value society gets when few individuals study some obscure author of here while others explore an obscure painter over there. At the end of the day, no one from these groups is likely to speak to each other and the capacities their study was to foster goes to waste. Now, to step back completely from what I just said, I recognize the troubling path I head down, but believe there is some value to having this conversation and trying to find some middle ground. Surely we can find some common, democratically-themed works in the humanities that could form the backbone of a curriculum designed for democratic growth.

To clarify another point, I don't disagree with the capacities Nussbaum mentions, I only argue they are not convincing to those seeing little value in the humanities. They already believe they think critically and for themselves. They are also highly suspicious when someone from the academy tries to show them how to respect others. (Here in New York, we're on the precipice of passing marriage equality and I can assure you there are many people not interested in respecting others!) So, Nussbaum identifies worthwhile capacities, but they could use some repackaging. For example, a professor here held a meeting presenting and defending the arguments of David Horowitz and an academic bill of rights. He explicitly told the audience that the phrase "critical thought" was code for Marxism. So, maybe we try to find another way of speaking about these capacities. I don't want to stray too far off-topic, and we can't cater our arguments completely to our opposition, but strategy is important and we must realize that we need to gain traction out there, not in here.


Jason DiGianni

abahachi said...

Coming late to this discussion, as I've been waiting for a copy of Nussbaum to arrive so that I could see if it actually confirmed the sense I was getting of it from reading these comments... On the whole it does, and so I do feel that I have an idea of why Nussbaum is taking what looks like a detour from her primary focus; she is seeking to lay some basic foundations on which her argument can be established.

(i) Values. The turn to development economics (or rather to this particular tradition in development economics) feels very familiar to me, as someone who works on the economic history of classical antiquity and on the development of economic thought in the nineteenth century, and I wonder whether N. is not at this point betraying the influence of her classics eduction. It's a simple move, insisting on the limited applicability of the assumptions made about human motivation by neo-classical economic theory; arguing that other values besides maximising utility determine or influence behaviour in non-western and pre-capitalist societies, hence that growth and profit can't be assumed to be universal motives (let alone have any normative force), hence that they may not be right for us, even though our society *is* dominated by them. In one respect, N.'s take on this is half-hearted; while she clearly wants to shift the argument about the value of the humanities away from calculations of economic benefit, she stills wants to claim that they do contribute to growth, rather than rejecting that set of evaluative criteria altogether. In another respect she goes much further, seeking (through her rhetoric, rather than producing a substantive argument), associating the pursuit of economic growth with repression, inequality, apartheid etc. Okay, she's seeking to counter several centuries' worth of discourse that associates economic growth with freedom and democracy, but it's still sneaky. In general, I find her use of non-western societies in this chapter as foils to the west - mostly as horrifying examples of what goes wrong if you over-emphasise economic growth, but occasionally as repositories of pre-capitalist wisdom, to be somewhat dubious.

abahachi said...

...continued...

(ii) Forms of education. N. sets up a familiar contrast between nasty, Gradgrind-esque rote learning and nice, liberated, creative and critical learning. Her twist on this supposed polarity is to associate nasty rote learning with the demands of the economy, and to associate critical learning with the humanities. Both these moves beg any number of questions. As has already been noted, critical skills are by no stretch of the imagination limited to the humanities (not least because of the statistical illiteracy of most humanities graduates, at any rate in the UK). Equally, rote learning of some sort is unavoidable as a means of acquiring the basic knowledge that's required before you're in any position to be creative or critical - cf. Gramsci on the role of Latin learning as a means of acquiring the necessary mental and physical habits of scholarship.

To sum up: economic growth is not the only desirable end in life; excessive focus on growth can indeed work against other ends, like equality and democracy; this is most obvious in the forms of education favoured by proponents of growth as the primary end of all human activity and esp. all state activity; the humanities are rejected by those who focus on economic growth, and therefore (sic) they are the form of education we need in order to promote values other than economic growth.

I don't *think* I'm being unfair in this summary, but stated in these terms - N. doesn't offer anything so explicit, but proceeds largely through implication and association - I don't believe a word of it. And I work in the humanities; I cannot see how this will persuade anyone, except through rhetoric rather than argument, and I don't think I want to have my area of intellectual activity defended in that manner.

Jason is absolutely right: people outside the humanities already believe that they think critically and for themselves - and they are not wrong, at least in the absence of a much more specific definition of what 'critical and independent thought' means.

Neville Morley
University of Bristol, UK

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