Humanities the Role of the Essay

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Poetry in particular is seen by some as being irrelevant in terms of practical skills. However, teachers also state that the study of poetry also helps the student to learn the subtle nuances of language and the way that words can function on many levels and in other fields and disciplines. For instance, knowledge of poetry and the intricate connotations of language usage can even be useful in the legal and business environment. In this regard many traditional teachers believe that neglecting the study of literature and poetry "spells doom" for the educational system in the United States. (James a. 1992)

This debate also leads to the controversial area of the teaching of history at schools. From the strictly pragmatic point-of-view only the history of the region or country needs to be taught. More radically, many educators believe today that history is not an essential subject that needs to be included in the curriculum.

However, there are many objections to this view. History is seen from both a traditional and more progressive view as an essential aspect in understanding the world and the actions and events that occur in the world that affect us on a daily basis. There is also the concern that if the history of other countries and regions is not taught and understood this may lead to intolerance and misunderstandings in politics and in terms of relationships. The world is becoming more interconnected every day as a result of modern technologies like the Internet. This means that people of different cultures and historical backgrounds are communicating at and ever- increasing rate and there is a growing need to understand the history of other countries. This also refers to what many educationists see as the importance of a multicultural perspective that should be inculcated in the school curriculum. There are, for instance, fears that "...a White, elitist system fails to reflect America's multi-ethnic, non-European heritage" (James a. 1992). The inclusion of history in the curriculum could ameliorate prejudice and bias.

Another area of concern is classical studies. This is a subject that is seldom included in the general curriculum today. While the subject may be felt to be somewhat time bound and irrelevant to the modern world, there is also a strong case for its inclusion in the modern curriculum. Like historical studies, a study of the classics reveals important perceptions not only about the past but also about insights and perceptions that are timeless and relevant the modern world.

In essence what the above argument emphasizes is that art, poetry, history and classical studies are important to develop critical and open thinking in pupils and students. While there are arguments against the inclusion of these subjects in the curriculum, yet they are in fact essential for the overall education and personal growth of the individual. This argument also applies to the study of philosophy and its inclusion in the curriculum.

Philosophy has for many years been seen as a specialized subject that is not usualy prescribed in general currcula. However, more traditional curricula consider philosophy to be originating point of all the sciences and therefore essential with regard to the inculcation of critical thought. This is also related to the view that all disciplines are related to philosophy. Therefore, from this perspective, philosophy can be seen as an essential part of any curriculum.

However, this subject has in most cases been supplanted by more practical and outcomes-based subjects. Many educationists lament this situation.

Philosophy used to have a very big role in the college curriculum. The role has grown progressively smaller with each decade. I think we have been outmaneuvered by other fields (mainly by the social sciences) in the game of academic politics (Bigger Role for Philosophy in the Curriculum. 2007).

There is a growing concern among many educationists that critical thinking is not being sufficiently promoting and inculcated by school and university curricula. As one pundit states, "We ought to push our institutions to make Critical Thinking a required course for all students and the course should be 100% under the control of people with solid training in logic" (Bigger Role for Philosophy in the Curriculum. 2007) This view is also supported by other studies which show that the study of logic and philosophical thought is an essential part of the curriculum. Many educators believe that philosophy as an integral part of a high school curriculum would make students more prepared to deal with many social issues as well as being conducive to developing integrative skills, understanding, and critical judgment. (Link, Michael a.)

The view that philosophy is an important component of any discussion on the curriculum and even in the sciences is emphasized for example in those who see its importance in the study of medicine. An article entitled Philosophy in the undergraduate medical curriculum -- beyond medical ethics, by Meakin (2004). Meakin suggests that, "Of the humanities disciplines philosophy has been associated with medicine since antiquity and applied moral philosophy (medical ethics) is still the humanities discipline that is accepted as an important part of the practice of medicine in modern times" (Meakin, 2004, p. 53) This implies that an understanding of the underlying philosophical trajectory of modern science and medicine is an essential aspect in understanding the foundations of the discipline. It therefore follows that it should be included in the curriculum.

The above viewpoints could also be applied to the inclusion of the history of science as an important part of the curriculum. While science is generally accepted as being an essential component of modern knowledge yet there is not enough critical questioning of the foundations of the scientific world view. This has led many educationists to suggest that knowledge of the history of science is an important part of any university curriculum. Many students are unaware that there have been many paradigm shifts and changes in the scientific world view and that it is only one way of perceiving reality among many others.

The issue of religious studies in the curriculum is a controversial and often highly emotional issue. While some see this as an essential part of the education process, others tend to view religion as a form of ideology and therefore open to criticism and deconstruction. It has also been suggested by some educators that religious studies should be expanded to become more open to alternative viewpoints. "Atheism, agnosticism and humanism should be taught to encourage students to discuss ethical dilemmas..." It is also suggested that religious education" "...should be re-named "religious, philosophical and moral education" (RE studies 'should cover atheism'). One of the essential aspects put forward by those who propose the inclusion of religious studies is that this subject is an important aspect of the inculcation of critical reasoning and in understanding the viewpoints and historical foundations of others.

3. Conclusion

In the final analysis there is a growing consensus that the inclusion of the humanities and subjects such as art and philosophy in the curriculum is a topic in need of serious reconsideration. While there has been a move towards more pragmatic and market oriented curricula in modern education in the past few decades, there is a growing awareness that the humanities offer educational advantages that cannot easily be ignored. The idea of a broad and 'well- rounded' educational curriculum has its detractors but there is an increasing emphasis on aspect such as the promotion of crucial thinking that subjects such as philosophy can provide. The developers of modern educational curriculums are therefore faced with a complex balancing act between outcomes based and market-based objectives and the inclusion of a wider and more critical educational approach.


Bigger Role for Philosophy in the Curriculum (2007) Retrieved January 17, 2009, at

Conklin, H.G. (2004). Review of Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 55(3), 284+. Retrieved January 17, 2009, from Questia database:

Cruey G. (2006) a Philosophy of Curriculum. What should we teach? Retrieved January 17, 2009, at

James a. Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America. Abstract retrieved January 17, 2009, at

Link, Michael a.(1976) Should Philosophy Be Taught to High School Students?

Social Studies, 67 (4) pp. 164-7.

Meakin R, (2004) Philosophy in the undergraduate medical curriculum -- beyond medical ethics. JOURNAL of MEDICAL ETHICS, 30 (3).

RE studies 'should cover atheism'. Retrieved January 17, 2009, at

Richard C. Why Teach Art. Retrieved January 17, 2009, at

Roediger D. (1988) Assessment: the secretary of education's new clothes - William Bennett. Retrieved January 17, 2009, at

Stephens P. (2008) Why Teach Art? SchoolArts: The Art Education Magazine for Teachers, 107(6)[continue]

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