Humanities Essay

June 4th, 2019 Announcement: The winners of this year’s Bachelor of Humanities High School Essay Contest have been chosen.

The top prize has been awarded to Odessa Hewitt-Bernhard for her essay entitled “Uncertainty, Humanity, and the Quest for Understanding”.

And yet, what we have to offer is needed now more than ever.

Today’s undergraduates are the first generation raised on the Internet and social media.

Everything in their world seems to encourage speed, multitasking and perpetual connectivity.

The vast proliferation of data only a click away invites surfing rather than digging deep, cutting and pasting rather than reflecting and evaluating.For students with little or no prior knowledge, classes in the humanities offer the chance not merely to encounter but rather to live with texts, ideas and works of art.Close reading, creative reflection, cogent response, spoken and written: these are skills the humanities foster and our students need, even if they do not recognize it yet.Instead, we need to reassert more passionately and more effectively the principles and practices that distinguish humanistic teaching and learning.In recent years, I have become more direct in explaining the goals and values of the kind of learning we undertake in my classes, and more explicit in explaining the choice of texts we are reading.Support of higher education at the state level has shrunk so dramatically that "elite" undergraduate education, long a major force in ensuring social mobility, not least through the great state universities and in an earlier generation through the GI Bill, is increasingly affordable only for young people from the financial and social elite.More students thus have to borrow more, and the amount Americans owe on their student loans has now outstripped credit card debt.Indeed, much of the humanities curriculum has been moving in those directions.I would argue, however, that we stand to lose our claim to a central place in the curriculum if our only response is an attempt to catch up to our students’ speed or vie with them in coolness.Students in the Bachelor of Humanities enthusiastically debate questions such as: What is the good life? Students are encouraged to pair their Humanities core with more detailed study of a particular subject, by doing a combined honours or a minor.The Bachelor of Humanities is unique in offering a degree in Humanities and Biology, for students planning to go to Medical School, and a joint degree in Journalism and Humanities.


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