John McCumber in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the importance of the humanities.
Where will students learn about racism, about “what something evil actually is, or why it is evil”? he asks.
Not in their marketing, economics, or STEM courses. Highly quantified disciplines like those cannot teach about things like racial or religious prejudice. To learn what anti-Semitism and racism are, students must turn to history and sociology courses. To learn why they are evil and how to avoid them, they must turn to the humanities.
In particular, it is the humanities that teach us how not to be racists, by showing us how to open ourselves up to what is different.
We must teach the humanities, because humanity depends on it:
For humanity doesn’t just exist; it has to be created, over and over again. If our violent history shows anything, it is that we are not born with an innate sympathy for, or understanding of, all humankind; and without those, “humanity” is just a word. So humanity has to be built, and the only way to build it is to show young people, already rooted in their own birth culture, that they can move beyond that culture without abandoning it — that what is foreign to that culture can remain foreign and still be worthy of thought and respect.