Liberal Education

How Do You Measure What Makes Life Worthwhile?

Are the humanities of value in modern life? Since the recession of 2008-2009 a pessimistic chorus has swelled. Many say they are irrelevant or economically unsustainable.

Gunnar Counselman, CEO of Fidelis Education, takes a positive position in a recent article for Inside Higher Education ( “I am convinced,” he writes, “that not only is the ‘death of the humanities at the hands of technology’ being wildly exaggerated, it’s directionally wrong.” And he locates the error precisely where it belongs—in the misapplication of economic values to the most important things in life. “The hard fact is that despite its importance, economic value is the wrong way to think about the liberal arts—and the sooner we accept that reality, the sooner we can stop arguing for the humanities from a position of weakness and instead move on with a good strategy to save them.”

Of course, this way of putting it plays into another myth about knowledge and learning—namely, the notion that there is a gulf between the sciences and the so-called humanities. There is not, so thinking this way creates problems for our understanding of education. But about economic value he is perfectly correct. It is a grave error to use economics to evaluate what is more important than economics.

And what is that? Counselman reminds us of it by quoting from a speech made by Robert F. Kennedy at the University of Kansas in March of 1968:
[blockquote source=”Robert F. Kennedy”]The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.[/blockquote]