Arturo Morales Carrión, Lecturer Humanist of the Year 1989
In recent days, a report on the significance of humanities in the Public Education system of the United States has come to light. The report titled American memory: A report on the humanities in the nation’s public schools has received the endorsement of the National Endowment for the Humanities and has served as base to numerous comments in different media outlets. The topic is current in the United States as well as in Puerto Rico. I wish we could have a similar report regarding humanities in our educational system in general and not only in the public sector.
It is a current observation, in the North as well as here, that there are great deficiencies in the knowledge students have in science and math. It is obvious that these disciplines are at the base of our modern civilization. We live in the technological era. We are wrapped up and often confused by a wave of new techniques that not only penetrate our immediate surroundings but also venture into the immense outer space. There is no corner in our universe that escapes the scientific curiosity that takes advantage of the techniques of our times. Therefore, all authentic education, beginning with the first efforts, should promote scientific formation and mathematical knowledge.
It is convenient that this affirmation apply not only to the scientific profession but also to the humanistic profession I belong to -among other things because in the history of scientific ideas-, in the shape and figure of nature’s world, we find traces of humanists who were also scientists.
In modern times, we have insisted on separating science from humanities as if they were two completely different orbits; as if the human imagination that creates science and develops techniques wasn’t the same imagination capable of esthetic, literary, or philosophical creation or of religious reflection. They both have their axis, their origin, their center of gravity, on the existence of the human race. Human beings have been the creators of both by using the energy of their thoughts and their various faculties. For this reason, all authentic education should also be humanistic; it should provide shape and significance to studies where there is a trace of thought and human action. “Only man”, states the great contemporary philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “can help man decipher the world”.
These very brief and insufficient reflections serve us as a starting point to string together so many others around the essential and difficult aspect of every educational effort: curriculum has in its Latin acceptance the notion of running, of completing a race. That is really the deepest sense of a program of study. It is undertaking an obstacle course that could be relatively short, intermediate, or long. And like all races, it implies progressing and moving in time. It is gathering points along the way with the purpose of achieving fixed goals.
Making a curriculum supposes certain time sequence and certain precise goals toward which we move. It supposes a type of training. But what will we say of the content? That is when things begin to get complicated. Is it not enough to underline the way, the path… what else was the notion of methodos among the Greeks? Is it enough for us to provide sufficient learning skills? Is there another fundamental aspect: content, which also presents other essential questions? What should I know and what should I know it for? What value does that knowledge have? How does it affect me? And who am I, in the end? Where have I come from? Where am I going? What function has my social environment had? Where do my ideas, feelings, values, and preferences come from?
It is in that difficult and rocky terrain that humanities appear as being joined to science. I firmly believe that the scientific image of the world that school children should have should be complemented with the humanistic image. The former underlines the sciences of life and nature; the latter provides the knowledge of ideas and facts that have created history and the great heritage of the arts of creation. Every curriculum needs this equilibrium; otherwise our runner would limp.
I acknowledge that the pedagogical rhetoric usually links these concepts. I am not defending anything. But reading the report I mentioned, has moved me to this idea. In the report’s preface there is an observation that could be applied to Puerto Rico: “Educational reform is a hot topic, but the humanities are not part of it”.
The report underlines a main concern I have meditated on several times: the absence of a collective memory. We see some of the abundant tests gathered in the North: there are students, who do not know what George Washington did; who do not know that there was a First World War, and who believe that Latin —not Spanish— is the language of Latin America.
In a recent study by the Hearst Corporation, 45 percent of the persons interviewed thought that the phrase by Karl Marx, “From everyone according to his ability, to everyone according to his need”, was a precept of the Constitution of the United States. In another study by the National Assessment for Educational Progress done in 1987, they found that two-thirds of 17-year-old students did not know what the American Civil War was, nor what the Magna Carta was, nor who Whitman, Hawthorne, and Melville were, not to mention Dante.
The report’s greatest concern, which I echo, is that in the effort to emphasize methods in the educational system, content has been sacrificed as well as the essential aspects of what we call the collective memory. If this happens in the United States, where there are so many institutions and groups interested in history and cultural heritage, what can we expect in Puerto Rico? How big is the emphasis given to humanities in our schools? Is there a clear conscience of their significance? Do we dilute, for example, the teaching of history within the social sciences without providing the chronological frame and multiple aspects of the historical process, always in continuous revision?
The Endowment I direct —Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities— has tried to provide efficient help in this direction with its limited funds. Few things have given me such satisfaction as the success of an idea I proponed and that our Board of Directors has made its own to celebrate regional humanistic development seminars for teachers. I believe that the conclusions of the five seminars that took place are parallel to the American memory report, a report we should some day hold an ample forum on. This report has a fundamental conclusion that in its entirety reads, “Teacher formation is decisive: their preparation should insist on the acquisition of content and not only on methodology, vital issue in the success of teaching”.
The interaction between the teaching process and humanities professors as well as with the sciences of culture is a need of all good curricula. If humanities aren’t taught properly, if they become dead matter of names and dates, if we neglect especially the study of languages and arts, not only will the school environment at the elementary levels continue to deteriorate but also the one in universities.
The “curriculum” initiates students in the career of life. I will not grow tired of stating a reflection that is to me a true repetition. We should educate so that students learn how to make a living, this, in the material sense. But we should also educate so that they learn not to lose life. And those who live in the trivial world are those who lose their lives, those who turn their backs on the richness of thought, on enjoying artistic expression, on the deep rumor of history, on the call for human solidarity that philosophical and religious systems provide us with. That is where the importance of humanities in every good curriculum comes from.
Message by Dr. Arturo Morales Carrión (1914-1989), Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities, in the annual convention of the Puerto Rico Association of Supervision and Curriculum on October 2, 1987.
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: September 23, 2010.
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