Wednesday, May 30, 2007 • 2:14 PM Comments (10)

Let’s Show ‘Em What a Liberal Arts Education is Good For

posted by Hayley Wood

I will always love Ralph Nader for publicly validating English majors. I joined the Green party soon after his speech at the First Churches in Northampton in the summer before the fateful 2000 presidential election. He said a lot of things that were sensible, clear, and truthful to me, but he really got me on my feet when he invited all the English majors in the room to stand up. He said, “When I speak to young college graduates and I ask them what they majored in, sometimes I get a sheepish response from the English majors. I say, the world needs more people who read and think and apply critical thinking to world events. That’s what a liberal arts education can do for you. It’s something to be proud of, and it’s something to use.”

Whatever you feel about Ralph Nader, his reaching out to the lowly English major kind of brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? It did for me, in spite of the fact that I was (and am) fortunate enough to work at an organization that promotes the humanities by funding public programs and mounting its own. Even if my parents still don’t quite understand what I do for a living, and even if I can’t distill the mission of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities into one cogent sentence that everyone will understand, I have the luxury of enjoying all the messy breadth that is represented by the humanities. It is the glorious ambiguity of the humanities and their engagement with questions of meaning, values, and ways of understanding reality that we aim to present with this new blog.

That’s right. Another blog. Surely there are enough words and visual noise in our lives without another claim on our attention.

This one is different. The Public Humanist is a group blog of 26 Massachusetts writers, many of them humanities professors of MA colleges, all of them in the idea business. They join this project to give voice to humanistic inquiry as it intersects with current day issues and social policy. You won’t find much of that (yet!) in the blogosphere; believe me, I looked.

Our format will be to present a weekly topic that two or more of our contributors will write about, offering different (but not necessarily opposed) perspectives. All bloggers, whether they are too proud to say so or not, desire some public feedback. That is very much the aim with this endeavor; I urge all readers to chime in and help us realize our goal of a civic discourse informed by our understandings of history, literature, philosophy, political science, religion, popular culture, and other areas of the humanities. Maybe we can make the humanities popular again, so that liberal arts majors and enthusiasts can proudly proclaim, “I’m a humanist.” Better yet, “I’m a public humanist.”

Comments (10)
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Welcome Hayley. Best wishes on a productive disourse.
Posted by Daryl G. LaFleur on 5.30.07 at 19:40
Good start for a new and important discourse! May it do more than preach to the converted!
Posted by Ingrid SM on 5.31.07 at 9:11
Raises hand as a fellow sheepish english major.. Honestly..is there a suport group for us? I *regularly* discount the fact that I was an English major as it doesn't have a direct connection to my current career path...so I am realizing that its a self-loathing of sorts to joke "well, I was an English major and isn't that funny and aren't I clever to have found something useful to contribute in spite of THAT vague handicap?"...which is rather lame. Interesting to think of revamping that script to lessen the self-shame of the English major. English Major Pride! Where's our parade? (shamelessly stolen from Margaret Cho) Otherwise, one actually relevant comment...thank you for highlighting that having two perspectives does not automatically mean opposing viewpoints. I believe most passionately that our culture desprately needs to re-learn how to understand and even hold conflicting opinions about the same topic. I applaud that this blog is not going for the tediously dull and unhelpful yet disturbingly traffic creating "crossfire" type format. Cheers to the new venture!
Posted by Ea on 5.31.07 at 10:49
We have to apologize for being English majors, I guess, because there's something unseemly in this unseemly country of ours about possessing the ability to think critically. We should be critically thinking only about whether to get the "hip-smoother" or "tummy-tucker" bathing suit for the season, no? (Me I always go for the hip-smoother.) Do more than that, and you'll be looked down upon for putting on airs. I am, however, still steamed at Ralph for not going away just for 2004. Didn't know you were blogging, Hayley, but what a welcome addition! Looking forward to ye ole discourse and what have you.
Posted by Ten Gallon Liberal on 5.31.07 at 11:01
Thanks for the well-wishes. Ea--the photo gallery of readers is meant to be an Pride March of Bookishness. But I'm all for the real thing, too. I'll get started right away on a giant Bread & Circus style puppet of an open book. Hi, Ingrid--I'd love to have people who are disinclined to value the humanities tune into this blog, but for now I'll content myself with offering something of interest to people who are already on board with the idea that the humanities have something important to offer--not the least of which is pleasure (a point made to me by Public Humanist contributor Jack Cheng just yesterday). Howdy, TGL. You didn't know about this venture? I invited you to be a writer for it, for cryin' out loud. Offer still stands.
Posted by Hayley on 5.31.07 at 12:19
Thanks Hayley! I just meant I didn't know it was up and running on the tubes of this here internet yesterday! I'll happily contribute whatever is lurking beneath the ten-gallon chapeau.
Posted by Ten Gallon Liberal on 5.31.07 at 12:53
Great idea! I was an english and a political science major, so the Nader event resonates with me. I think English majors learn more than skill with words. They gain the rewards of great stories, namely empathy and ethics. Hope your blog will bulge with narratives which help us get inside each other's skins and learn how to treat each other better and better.
Posted by Bob Benedetti on 5.31.07 at 14:55
Wow, Bob, I hope so too.
Posted by Hayley on 6.1.07 at 4:38
I'm not the fan of "Prairie Home Companion" that I once was, but I DO love the bits he does about English majors (not that I was one).
Posted by Ellen Rothman on 6.1.07 at 11:35
I have never been the brightest candle in the candlestick factory, and i can not pretend to me. but it does seem like liberal arts have got a bad reputation which is probly do to the "liberal" part but it is not like we have got a "conservative arts" education anywheres that I know of, so they can just put that in their craw and smoke it, right?
Posted by Frank Dodge on 6.1.07 at 13:54
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