Martha Nussbaum: "The Liberal Arts Are Not Elitist"
We are in the midst of a crisis of huge proportions and grave global significance. No, I do not mean the global economic crisis that began in 2008. At least then everyone knew that the crisis was at hand, and many world leaders worked to find solutions. No, I mean a crisis that goes largely unnoticed; a crisis that is likely to be, in the long run, far more damaging to the future of democratic self-government: a worldwide crisis in education.
Radical changes are occurring in what democratic societies teach the young, and these changes have not been well thought through. Thirsty for national profit, nations and their systems of education are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive. If this trend continues, all over the world we will soon be producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person's sufferings and achievements. The future of the world’s democracies hangs in the balance.
What are these radical changes? The liberal arts are being cut away in both elementary and secondary education and in universities. Indeed, what we might call the humanistic aspects of science and social science—the imaginative, creative aspect, and the aspect of rigorous critical thought—are also losing ground.