Scholarly Group Takes Pulse of Humanities in U.S.

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The state of the humanities in the United States could become a bit clearer with the introduction of a series of indicators on history, language arts, and foreign-language learning in the nation’s schools and colleges, as well as data on the humanities workforce.

Citing the widespread availability of data on science and engineering education, research, and professions, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences developed the indicators to allow greater analysis of trends, issues, and problems in the disciplines.

“This is the first set of comprehensive statistical information about the state of the humanities in the United States,” said Leslie Berlowitz, the academy’s chief executive officer. She pointed to the “Science and Engineering Indicators” prepared annually by the National Science Foundation since the 1970s as a model for the kind of knowledge base that can be compiled on the humanities.

“We need more reliable empirical data about what is being taught in the humanities, how they are funded, the size of the workforce, and public attitudes toward the field,” Mr. Berlowitz said.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based academy has compiled 74 indicators and 200 charts and tables to serve as the prototype for a national database on the humanities.

Range of School Data

Under the heading of Primary and Secondary Education, there are data from national assessments in history and civics, surveys on high school coursetaking, and statistics on teacher qualifications.

An essay on public education points out that while there has been widespread concern over the inadequate numbers of teachers in math and science who are considered highly qualified under No Child Left Behind, just half of public high school students taking foreign languages and 40 percent of those in history classes are taught by faculty members who majored in the subjects.

The disappointing performance of students on many of the indicators, including national assessments in history and civics, some experts say, provides evidence that the humanities are given too little attention in the school curriculum.

“The report shows the kind of narrow emphasis on reading and literacy issues doesn’t really work,” said Syd Golston, the president-elect of the National Council for the Social Studies in Silver Spring, Md. “The [curriculum] has to involved the humanities, which are critical to citizenship and living a good life.”

A section outlining humanities in American life includes information on services offered at public libraries, literacy rates, and book-reading habits among adults and children, and the popularity of historic sites and art museums.

The indicators will be updated regularly with government data and original research by the academy. Later this year, the findings of a survey of higher education faculty members will also be added.

Vol. 28, Issue 18

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