Do the Humanities Need Saving?

In ENG 132, our framing question deals with the role of the humanities in our academic, professional, and personal lives. While it is easy for teachers like me to defend the humanities as an essential part of a college education (and courses in the humanities are included as general education requirements), many have questioned the purpose of such courses for students who are pursuing careers outside of the field. Students sometimes come to this course with reservations; after studying literature since grade school, they are certain that more literary analysis is not what they need to be a successful surgical technician or engineer. When funding is tight, classes or extracurricular activities in the arts and the humanities are the first to meet the chopping block. Why is this? What role, if any, might courses in the humanities play in our lives? Should courses in the humanities be required for all students? Why or why not? What can these courses teach us? What might be lost if these courses were let go?

Your first in-class essay asks you to respond to this prompt. While no research or source work is required to write a successful essay, you may find it useful to review some of these links:

On Studying the Humanities: What Does it Mean to Be Human?

HFC’s Associates in Liberal Arts Program and Degree Requirements

Saving the Liberal Arts on Inside Higher Ed

Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature

You can find further reading by conducting a simple Google search, but again, no research is needed to complete the essay, your opinion supported with examples or even personal experience is sufficient!

Over the course of our semester, we’ll be exploring two uses of literature as one way into this conversation. We’ll look at why storytelling can be so powerful, and why certain media (in this case, comics and poetry) are so effective. We’ll inquire as to why we document events and experiences, and how social media has changed the landscape of documentary work. We’ll ask what counts as literature. And, if literature is one frame for the human experience, how can we, as writers, ask good questions in order to conduct and present ethical research about various identities and interests?

You’ll revisit this prompt again at the end of the semester as a final assignment. Hopefully, through engagement with our course materials and your own research, your ideas will develop further.


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