Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (The Public Square)

Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (The Public Square)

Martha C. Nussbaum

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: 069117332X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this short and powerful book, celebrated philosopher Martha Nussbaum makes a passionate case for the importance of the liberal arts at all levels of education.

Historically, the humanities have been central to education because they have been seen as essential for creating competent democratic citizens. But recently, Nussbaum argues, thinking about the aims of education has gone disturbingly awry in the United States and abroad. We increasingly treat education as though its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable, productive, and empathetic individuals. This shortsighted focus on profitable skills has eroded our ability to criticize authority, reduced our sympathy with the marginalized and different, and damaged our competence to deal with complex global problems. And the loss of these basic capacities jeopardizes the health of democracies and the hope of a decent world.

In response to this dire situation, Nussbaum argues that we must resist efforts to reduce education to a tool of the gross national product. Rather, we must work to reconnect education to the humanities in order to give students the capacity to be true democratic citizens of their countries and the world.

Drawing on the stories of troubling--and hopeful--educational developments from around the world, Nussbaum offers a manifesto that should be a rallying cry for anyone who cares about the deepest purposes of education.

In a new preface, Nussbaum explores the current state of humanistic education globally and shows why the crisis of the humanities has far from abated. Translated into over twenty languages, Not for Profit draws on the stories of troubling--and hopeful--global educational developments. Nussbaum offers a manifesto that should be a rallying cry for anyone who cares about the deepest purposes of education.

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animosity? What forces make powerful groups seek control and domination? What makes majorities try, so ubiquitously, to denigrate or stigmatize minorities? Whatever these forces are, it is ultimately against them that true education for responsible national and global citizenship must fight. And it must fight using whatever resources the human personality contains that help democracy prevail against hierarchy. We Americans are sometimes told that evil is something that exists for the most part

discrimination.16 In short, bad behavior is not just the result of a diseased individual upbringing or a diseased society. It is a possibility for apparently decent people, under certain circumstances. Perhaps the most famous experiment of this type is Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, in which he found that subjects randomly cast in the roles of prison guard and prisoner began to behave differently almost right away. The prisoners became passive and depressed; the guards used their

impressions . . . by full freedom given for inquiry and experience and at the same time will be stimulated to think for itself. . . . Our mind does not gain true freedom by acquiring materials for knowledge and possessing other people’s ideas but by forming its own standards of judgment and producing its own thoughts.”12 Accounts of his practice report that he repeatedly put problems before the students and elicited answers from them by questioning, in Socratic fashion. Another device Tagore

students needed to learn. Dewey believed that when history was taught with an exclusive focus on political and military aspects, democratic citizenship suffered: “Economic history is more human, more democratic, and hence more liberalizing than political history. It deals not with the rise and fall of principalities and powers, but with the growth of the effective liberties, through command of nature, of the common man for whom powers and principalities exist.4 This statement seems relatively

rapid decline in humanities and arts funding. And the indications are that rather than decreasing the focus on the type of national testing pioneered under No Child Left Behind, the administration plans to expand it. In his speeches on education, the president rightly emphasizes the issue of equality, talking about the importance of making all Americans capable of pursuing the “American Dream.” But the pursuit of a dream requires dreamers: educated minds that can think critically about

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