The release this week of “The Heart of the Matter,” the report of a national commission convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is intended to set off a discussion of the value of the humanities and social sciences — not only to our educational system but to American culture and society more generally. That conversation is likely to run along the usual lines. We’ll hear about how a well-rounded education fosters creativity and innovation, why it’s important to think about what things mean and not just how they work, how an understanding of history and the ability to think critically are important elements of citizenship. And we’ll hear the pushback from a currently popular line of argument that reduces education to job training, job training to the imparting of technical skills, and technical skills to math and science and engineering.
I hope — but don’t expect — that this report will help us think in purposeful and useful ways about why we should invest heavily in the branches of knowledge that fall within the wide embrace of the humanities and social sciences. It’s an uphill battle, though.