Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Humanities in the time of profiteering pursuits

The Noble Savage is dead, or dying! Humongous changes have occurred in the last two decades the world over, yet the course curricula on humanities in most universities haven’t changed sufficiently enough; when carried out, they don’t seem to have been thought-out.
The rapacity for profiteering and longing for a good balance sheet, and senseless competition among corporate firms have cast long shadows on educationists. The emphasis has shifted from the finer aspects of life to profit-making — skewing systems of education and discarding skills that are inviolate and inviolable to keep human beings humane.

The humanities and the arts — I consciously use humanity and art here as embracing everything that do not directly contribute to profit-making in business and commerce – have been given short shrift, in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Decision-makers see these as “useless frills” because they aren’t monetisable – they seem abstract and distant, at a time when cutting out these so-called “non-profiteering elements” that do not value-add to business to stay competitive and cost-effective in the marketplace is considered kosher.

Losing relevance

Consequently, they seem to be rapidly losing their relevance in course curricula and in the minds and hearts of parents and children. Indeed, the humanistic aspects of humanities, art and social sciences — the imaginative, creative dimensions not bound by crazy objectives of consumerism and possessive individualism – are getting buried and left asunder in our pursuit of short-term profit-making.

The result is that the impact of humanities and liberal arts on human action and day-to-day activities seems to be distinctly on the wane. Traditional and conventional approaches of teaching coupled with stasis that makes them traverse the same beaten path of course curricula isn’t helping society see the relevance of humanities and social science in a technology-driven, changing world. The approach inevitably will be nuanced and there will be a need to tweak the course content and fine-tune it to come up with newer products to stay relevant and act as a facilitator to business and industry.

Much as critical thinking can’t be wished away, so too imagination that brings in soft human skills and elements to focus on products to re-humanise humans amid the surfeit of technological practices and innovations inexorably hegemonising his mind and life today: compassion and empathy that’s fast becoming an endangered quality; the skewed work-life balance not conducive for children and family; the eternal human values such as decency and courtesy that seem to be under threat of extinction.

Course content, say in subjects of Empathy and Professional Ethics or Decency and Civility in Public Life or An ideal Work-Life Balance or Learning from the Past and Present, with their universal application at all times in all climes and in all professions amid the increasing complexity of the world we live and work in could be developed drawing lessons, say from history, politics, psychology, philosophy, literature(s), sociology and social work et al.

An example

The Harvard Professor-philosopher Michael Sandel’s course, Justice, which for a decade and a half has been a success with more than a thousand students joining the course and with his lectures placed online as open source, and turned into an eponymous bestselling book, comes to mind.

Be it in the medical profession or on the factory shop floor or in the litigating legal world, compassion and empathy indeed have — and will always have — a place for humankind. That needs to be kept alive because the package of life is much more than mere moolah and profit-making; these softer attributes that humanities offer are crucial to retaining the humaneness of human beings that far outstrip the craze for material goods, mindless consumerism and upward social mobility.

The same would hold good for the few illustrative cases suggested above. A case study method adopted with the study content drawn from life’s variegated experiences will help involve and sensitise students to simulate, internalise and imbibe lessons drawn from myriad disciplines and build architecture in their heads that will trigger their thinking in their primary areas of work. It will mainstream the humanities disciplines and make teachers and students feel relevant and connected, and prompt them to trigger thinking to conflate their ideas with the changing dynamics of the world today, and view their own specialties in a new light.

A need triggered by the globalising times concerns development of communication skills, verbal and written. This will not be the preserve and concern of language teaching departments alone, who though will need to get into the disciplines they are working on to understand, familiarise and internalise the latter’s contents and needs, and thereafter offer inter-disciplinary electives in collaboration with various disciplines. English having become a universal language of transaction and commerce, the English language teaching department will have an important role to play. These soft skills development should become an important part of the curricula of a good finishing school university.                                                                                                                                       (Reproduced from The Hindu)

No comments:

Post a Comment