Dr. James McNinch, Dean of Education at the University of Regina
The humanities help us to conceptualize the world from many larger and diverse perspectives beyond our own immediate and often very parochial experiences. The arts and humanities are about understanding ourselves as imaginative, creative, artistic beings. Such
creativity and imagination is found in all disciplines. When we understand this, we see that the binary between professional faculties and other faculties is a false one. Professional schools are built on a foundation of a broader understanding of what a liberal arts and humanities education is about. People heading in the direction of a professional degree don’t see themselves necessarily as engaging in the humanities, until they come to university. Of 120 credits of a typical 4 year professional degree, 60 credits (50% ) are in other faculties that offer courses in the arts, fine arts, sciences,and social sciences. In addition, many professions assume that a four year undergraduate liberal arts degree is a necessary preparation for professional studies. Such fields have included Law, but this is now becoming the new norm in fields such as Education and Police and Justice Studies.
Education, broadly, is about exploring what it means to be human and then applying that understanding to a particular endeavour. The humanities are the unseen underpinnings that professionals bring to their field of expertise. The humanities help us to understand who we think we are. That understanding, of course, is always in flux.
I am often asked, “What is the utility of the arts and humanities?” It’s hard to
turn that question away from the value or a value-added argument implicit in that question. Study of the humanities help make for better human beings, better societies,and hopefully a better world.
We need to help others recognize and re-imagine the humanities. The history of the Humanities from the Greeks onward is about the study of logic and rhetoric for the preparation for men to assume positions of power and privilege. Today, however, the creative and imaginative aspects of the Humanities need to be emphasized. Elementary schools and high schools are full of the study of the humanities, for instance, but it’s rarely labelled as such. Everyone sees the importance of being informed by an understanding of the world in which we live, and our relationships with self and others; we need to call this what it is: the arts and humanities.
Today, for example, social media continues to amply demonstrate that the humanities and our needs to connect and care and explore what it means to be human are alive and well.
As humans we continually reinvent ways to tell stories about who we think we are. Some of these narratives are embedded in particular disciplines, reified in Universities, that too often seem to be self-serving rather than accessible to the population at large. I believe, however, that what we call the “arts and humanities” will liberate all of us from the elitism often inherent in discipline-based “higher” (as if better) education.
I find it exciting to see new students come to university with a vague or narrow or understandably naive idea of what they should be studying, and then, after a couple of semesters, to discover a much broader range of subjects, ideas, and fields of study through their introductory classes. All sorts of new ways of knowing open up. Not everyone sticks to the goals they had or that their parents had of them like becoming a teacher or a nurse, for examples. I entered university thinking I should become an economist and drive an expensive imported sports car and ended up doing a double major in history and English. I was captivated as an undergraduate by the human and intellectual scope of these disciplines. My own induction into teaching and education happened much later, but was always animated by my immersion in the humanities. My grandson is entering university next year with the idea that he wants to become a member of the RCMP. There is nothing wrong with that, but I also hope that his own immersion in a liberal arts education, which is the foundation of the Justice and Police Studies curriculum, will open up many other possibilities to him about what it means to be a human being in this world.
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