In 2010, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences formed a commission to study the state of, and need for, humanities and social science education in the U.S. The Academy released the final report late last week. It’s titled “The Heart of the Matter,” and it’s for lovers of and advocates for local history. According to the report, advancement in science and technology – subjects increasingly emphasized in schools, sometimes to the disadvantage of the humanities – is indeed crucial to our nation’s continued prosperity. However, only a strong background in the humanities will give the next generation the skills they need to innovate, to participate constructively in their own government, and to lead in an increasingly interconnected world. Science and technology are the future of our society, but the humanities are the glue that holds that society together.
“The Heart of the Matter” is encouraging read, no doubt – its recommendations call for increased support for all humanities institutions, including museums and stewards of historical collections. The report not only asserts the value of history as an academic discipline, it touts the importance of museums in “sustaining strong communities” and extending learning outside of and beyond formal education. It calls for increased federal and public funding for the humanities, in particular to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provides grants to museums and historical societies.
The report is more than just cause for hope, though. It proposes goals for humanities education – objectives meant to assure that humanities education in all its forms will provide our citizens with the skills they’ll need in the 21st century – and invites all stakeholders to take part in discussing and meeting those goals. As a public historian, it was exciting to read through these goals and see the ways they connect to the work we do at the Heritage Center of Clark County. For example, it notes that our country’s long-term success will rely not only on citizens trained for specific jobs, but also on “the development of professional flexibility and long-term qualities of mind,” such as curiosity, critical analysis, and communication skills. These are all skills and abilities that the study of history, and historical museums in particular, are ready and able to teach. The report also points out that, in an international context, understanding of other cultures and sensitivity to various perspectives will be critical. The story of America is the story of different cultures meeting, clashing, and striving for harmony, and local history museums have been telling this story for decades.
Those are just a few of the report’s inspiring and thought-provoking tidbits. Read the full report for yourself at the AAAS website.