The Humanities are not a Luxury: A Manifesto for the Twenty-first Century
In her piece “The Humanities are not a Luxury: A Manifesto for the Twenty-first Century”, Smith Martha Nell delivers the message that humanities are an expression of the human condition rather than a luxury. Initially, she quotes the evidence from Audre Lorde’s, a credible scholar, work arguing that poetry is no luxury but a necessity in our lives. The claim here is that poetry is a form of humanity and it includes all that humans do in their lives including music, theatre, dancing, history etc. All these ‘poetry’ is used to capture our deepest fears and hopes rather than just be luxurious (Smith 48).
Smith acknowledges the contrary argument that poets do not reflect on humans’ daily lives since their words are full of metaphorical meanings. Her claim is hinged on the claim from Robert Frost, a credible scholar, that the words do not always yield positive outcomes as the poets don’t tell ‘boys’ what to think (48). They (poets) do not tell them what conclusions or meanings to draw from the poems which leaves them (‘boys’) in the dark. This counter argument sets up a problem of including metaphors in the poets’ work but Smith outlines that the metaphors are important and create the need for critical thinking for humans (50).
To show the importance of critical thinking, Smith uses an example of the California budget crisis in which Mark Yudolf, president of the University of California, used a ‘metaphor’ to air out the grievances of the ‘English departments’ not receiving their payment. The English department in this case referred to the humanities department and the point was that the humanities curricula and researches cost much but did not pay. The rebuttal point here is that the in the context of Yudolf’s claim, the media and the general public was supposed to ‘put this and that together’ thus deducing what he meant (50). Smith further uses, Yudolf’s case to stress that humanity are not a luxury. She quotes an argument brought out by a credible scholar, Emily Dickinson, who argues that the value of artist humanities is priceless in the society (51). The argument leads to the declaration that humanities and social sciences are vital necessities in human life even though Yudolf might have been interpreted as an expense, a luxury. Humanities are not a luxury but a great benefit in understanding the society (Gil Soeiro and Tavares 1).
Smith stresses that humanities are not a luxury by quoting the claims of Robert Watson and Lorde who claim that humanities and social sciences are actually enrichment to the institutions and to the students’ lives. The claim is that they yield more than 100% of their total expenditure. Smith backs this with the evidence by Yudolf who social sciences and humanities are a better source of cross-subsidy for the institutions unlike the laboratory requiring courses such as engineering (51).
Smith points out that there is no major crisis in the humanities sector as Yudolf claimed in his argument. Nevertheless, the image, as evident in Smiths document, shows students of Yudolf’s school protesting with a banner written “save the humanities” (Smith 52). More evident news press claims of the crisis are that: PHD’s seeking positions will not get employment, the American Council of Learned Societies claim that humanities PHD’s graduates can’t find jobs, the humanities being attacked every day, and the claim that the humanities are no longer ‘humane’ (52).
The author claims that there is a public disinvestment in the humanities and portrays the problem that the public universities are hardly funded. She quotes the claims by Lewis that only the minority try to air out the humanities grievances. The most vocal groups, such as the media and the politicians do not back up this concerns of which Holm, Jarrick and Scott agree (Holm, Jarrick and Scott 160). The significance of the claim is that democracy is strong if it is backed up without fear which means we should always think critically so as to advance in it (52).
The author wraps up the document by recommending what she calls, ‘the technology of self-consciousness’. She recommends that; the humanities ‘team’ should get past the myth that the humanities are an expense; the ‘team’ should always challenge the humanities since as Smith quotes, “an analysis of how the conventions of the outbreak narrative shape attitudes toward disease emergence and social transformation can lead to more effective, just, and compassionate responses both to a changing world and to the problems of global health and human welfare.” (Chew 1203); the ‘team’ should never be ruled by money but rather they be focused on passing the education; they should not allow technology to brainwash them from humane humanities; and finally they should ensure the best rapport between the elders and the peers alike. Only if we be comfortable around the human kind will the humanities make sense (Smith 54-55).
Chew, Suok Kai. “Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, And The Outbreak Narrative”. Choice Reviews Online 46.01 (2008): 1203. Web.
Gil Soeiro, Ed. Ricardo and Sofia Tavares. “Rethinking The Humanities: Paths And Challenges”. The Kelvingrove Review 1.11 (2012): 1. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.
Holm, Poul, Arne Jarrick, and Dominic Scott. Humanities World Report 2015. Hampshire: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2015. Print.
Nell Smith, Martha. “The Humanities Are Not A Luxury: A Manifesto For The Twenty-First Century”. Liberal Education 102.3 (Winter 2011): 48-55, Web. 13 Oct. 2016.