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A New Humanities Report Card

A New Humanities Report Card
September 4, 2013

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a “Humanities Report Card” Tuesday to accompany its earlier, lengthier Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities and social sciences. The academy described the report card as a “snapshot of the current data illustrating where the humanities are today.”

The report card is made up of infographics, data for which mainly were drawn from the academy’s existing Humanities Indicators statistical database. John Tessitore, director of programming for the academy, said the document is meant to be accessible to the general public, which has taken a keen interest in the original report, as well as academics and others involved in the humanities. It’s also meant to drive traffic to the Humanities Indicators, he said, which paint a much more detailed, data-driven portrait of the humanities in schools, colleges, work and other aspects of American life.

The Heart of the Matter, released in June, argued for more investment in the humanities and social sciences, citing their value in shaping an informed electorate and in helping students prepare for careers – not just jobs.

The report card is divided into several sections, including “The Value of the Humanities,” “Signs of Health” and “Challenges.”

Positive indicators include:

  • 84 percent of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major.
  • 19 percent of members of Congress majored in the humanities; 37 percent majored in the social sciences.
  • Three out of four employers say they want new hires with “precisely the sorts of skills that the humanities teach: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, as well as written and oral communication.”
  • Between 2000 and 2009, humanities majors scored 9 percent higher on the Graduate Management Admissions Test than did business majors.
  • Despite reports on declining numbers of humanities majors since the 1960s, the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has grown since its nadir in the 1980s, with more than 185,000 degrees reported in each year from 2009 to 2011.

Negative indicators include:

  • The gap between average math and verbal scores on the SAT is growing.
  • Only 13 percent of college students learn “critical need” languages for international security and global competitiveness.
  • Reading for pleasure declined 11 percent from 1992 to 2008.
  • U.S. high school students ranked 10th in a recent international reading assessment.
  • In 2011, humanities research received only 0.48 percent of the amount of research and development funds dedicated to science and engineering in higher education.

Advocates of the humanities praised the document.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, in an e-mail commended the academy for its statistical focus on the past two decades, noting that some of the conversations about the so-called decline of the humanities have relied on outdated data or historical scopes that don't illuminate current realities. Based on the data, there are things to celebrate about the state of the humanities, and causes for concern, she added.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said it shows "why humanities education benefits individuals and their communities. And then it tells us what we are accomplishing in that area, and what we are not."

Beyond the statistics, he said, it's important to consider much of the general public "knows the landscape" underlying the report card, and ways to improve it. "I suspect there is a broad consensus on the importance of young children being read to by their parents; and then having qualified teachers as they get older," he said in an e-mail, referring to statistics in the report. "And when these things aren't happening enough we have to publicize that deficiency in our public culture. We also need to be prepared to suggest ideas for improvement. President Obama cannot issue an executive order requiring parents or older siblings to read to young children. How do we encourage such activity? What sorts of professional development and hiring policies do we need to increase the number of students who learn history from qualified teachers?"

 

 

 

 

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