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An Analysis of Mark Slouka’s Argument on the Lack of Humanities in American Education

In “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School”, Mark Slouka addresses the lack of humanities in American education curriculum, in contrast to the overwhelming focus on math and science. For the educational system, this translates as an imbalanced approach to teaching students how to think creatively and authentically.

“…the problem today is disequilibrium. Why is every Crisis in American Education cast as an economic threat and never a civic one?” (37) While Slouka certainly uses many rhetorical techniques throughout his article to criticize the focus on math and science in American education, this might be the most striking one. Why an education recovery automatically equals to an economy recovery? Why doesn’t the public see a progress in education as a progress in the student’s ability to think more creatively or to analyze problems more critically?

Slouka suggests that we pay less attention on educational crisis as a ‘civic threat’ because:

“we don’t have the language for it. Our focus is on the usual economic indicators. There are no corresponding “civic indicators,” no generally agreed-upon warning signs of political vulnerability, even though the inability of more than two thirds of our college graduates to read a text and draw rational inferences could be seen as the political equivalent of runaway inflation or soaring unemployment.” (37)

As Slouka stated, economic crises are quantifiable, while civic crises are usually not and therefore, there is an underwhelming focus on humanities in the education system. By ‘civic indicators’, Slouka refers to the signs that help pointing out troubling issues that could impose disastrous consequences on the human values of the citizens in the country.

In Slouka’s sense, civic indicators could also refer to the degree of democracy in the economy. Slouka argues that “Political freedom, whatever the market evangelists may tell us, is not an automatic by-product of a growing economy” (36) Through this claim, Slouka is trying to convey to us that a developed economy does not automatically result in high level of political liberation. Thus, in order to solve this issue, the politicians should place more importance on humanities in education and let the ‘human’ aspects of the students grow along with their quantitative skills that could potentially drive economic output. Humanities can help us achieve this middle-ground and enhance as well as liberate the student’s political standpoint because humanities, unlike math and science, teach us “not what to do but how to be.” (37) But aren’t there not enough warning signs of civic crisis out there, not enough to motivate the politicians and the governmental board of education to start gearing the country’s education system towards humanities?

Several times in Dehumanized, Slouka points out concerning issues due to the lack of humanities in schools. He mentions Brent Staples, from New York Times, who claims that “the American education system is failing “to produce the fluent writers required by the new economy.” (34) The Education Commission of the States published a report saying that “state and local leaders are realizing that the arts and culture are vital to economic development” and several states have even “developed initiatives that address the connections between economic growth and the arts and the culture”. (36) Moreover, the embarrassingly low voter turnout in the recent years can also serve as a strong ‘civic indicator’ of the diminishing knowledge or focus the younger generations placed on the policies and programs that are adopted by the government. Too many members of society are ignorant to the significance of their involvement in the political arena. The lack of knowledge stems from the lack of information received in the educational process. It is in the area of the humanities that the individual gains an appreciation and understanding for their role as a citizen in a democracy.

Even with all these reasons, the politicians still decided to turn a blind-eye on the importance of the humanities and continued on their quest to produce economically-beneficial worker-bees. American politicians are obsessed with maintaining America’s position as the world economic leader. Thus, they would not stop pushing the education curriculum towards math and science, because they are the subjects that have the most obvious potential in growing the economy.

“Ah, Singapore. You’ll hear a good deal about Singapore if you listen to the chorus of concern over American education. If only we could be more like Singapore. If only our education system could be as efficient as Singapore’s.” (35)

Slouka is annoyed by America’s unreasonable attitude in comparing its own education system to that of Singapore. Singapore’s education system is well-known for its heavy focus on math and science, in which Slouka views as “obsessive, exclusionary, altogether unhealthy.” (38) He uses a slightly mocking tone in the quoted paragraph above to imply that American should be focusing on improving its own – in what he believes, broken – education system instead of trying to get ahead of the others. Slouka is convinced that the reason that the American education system overlooks the crucial role of humanities in developing the nation is not because of the shortage of civic indicators. However, even with plenty civic indicators, politicians are still much more attracted to quantifiable measures and the false pride that comes with America triumphing over another country’s economy.

One would hope that the appreciation of the humanities and the corresponding civic indicators becomes a reality for more people. “The humanities, in short, are a superb delivery mechanism for what we might call democratic values. There is no better than I am aware of.” (37) Slouka believes that those who can grasp the concept and comprehend the condition of the nation by paying attention to the civic indicators and the humanities are people who are beginning to realize and truly understand the world around them. If American people are to ever fulfill their dreams of a true democracy, then it is imperative to break away from the hypnotic grip this capitalist system has upon us.

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