The Globe and Mail Reviews Nussbaum's New Book

Education as liberation
Paul Russell
The Globe and Mail
July 6, 2010

Over a century and half ago, Charles Dickens, in Hard Times, gave us a vivid portrait of the character Thomas Gradgrind – “a man of realities” for whom education is simply a matter of teaching “facts” and applying the useful skills of arithmetic to all our problems. For the likes of Gradgrind, the arts and humanities are just costly irrelevances.

In Not for Profit, Martha Nussbaum makes clear that not only are the Gradgrinds still with us, they are rapidly acquiring global dominance and influence over the way in which the next generation is being educated. Nussbaum, an eminent and distinguished scholar and philosopher at the University of Chicago, argues that this process has been encouraged and propelled by the economic pressures of globalization. The end effect of this process, if it carries on unchecked, will be “the suicide of the soul” and an erosion of our democratic culture.

Nussbaum’s analysis of our predicament turns on a contrast between two rival models of education. The “old model,” concerned with education for profit and economic growth, places heavy emphasis on the skills associated with science and technology. From this perspective, the study of literature, history, philosophy, languages and the arts make no real or significant contribution to our basic economic needs and concerns – they may even be obstacles.

In contrast, Nussbaum defends “the human development mode,” which regards the humanities as having a crucial role in our commitment to a democratic community and social equality. This alternative approach is perhaps better described as the “ethical model,” since in respect of both its method and content it aims to produce humane, sympathetic and creative “global citizens.”

Martha Nussbaum