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Lax Education In Humanities, Social Sciences Sparks Outcry


After years of focus in Washington, D.C., on improving science and math education in the country, now the humanities community is speaking out. Their message - we matter too - came in the form of a report. That report was released yesterday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And it's raising alarms about the state of education in humanities and social sciences. NPR's Cory Turner has the story.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: First, what is humanities? Think the study of languages, literature, history, philosophy and religion. And according to the report, the humanities - along with social sciences like economics and psychology - are being neglected in America. That's a problem, the report says, because the global economy requires skills that workers can only get studying the humanities. This isn't just about losing the arts; it's about losing money, power, and our place in the world.

PAULINE YU: The world has become interconnected. The more you know about other cultures, about other societies, the better you can function.

TURNER: Pauline Yu is president of the American Council of Learned Societies, and a commissioner behind the report. So is former Ambassador Karl Eikenberry - who says our national security is at stake.

KARL EIKENBERRY: If you're going to make your nation more secure, you have to have a cadre in the business world, in academe, in the military, in the diplomatic corps, that understands the world.

TURNER: The report suggests, among other things, that we double-down on the basics - reading, writing and speaking - and encourage students to learn languages and study abroad. It was requested in 2010 by a bipartisan group of congressmen, including Democrat David Price of North Carolina. He says the humanities don't just help us understand the world, but who we are as Americans.

REP. DAVID PRICE: We need an appreciation of our history, of what binds us together as a country. There's a base of knowledge that's required for good, intelligent citizenship.

TURNER: And the process, Price says, of teaching good citizens is in jeopardy. Cory Turner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.

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