President Knapp Supports Report on Importance of Humanities

The Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences released a report last week with recommendations on advancing the humanities.

Hill humanities report
President Steven Knapp, second from right, lent expertise to a new report, The Heart of the Matter, which works to advance the humanities and social sciences. At center, Richard Brodhead, co-chair of the commission and president of Duke University.
June 24, 2013

George Washington University President Steven Knapp last week joined lawmakers and higher education leaders on Capitol Hill to emphasize the importance of the humanities and social sciences in educating the future leaders of the nation.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Knapp lent expertise to a new report, The Heart of the Matter, which identifies three goals and 13 recommendations for advancing the humanities and social sciences in America. Four members of Congress--Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., B.A. ’77, and Reps. Tom Petri, R-Wisc., and David Price, D-N.C.--requested the report.

“The main thing about this report is to start a national dialogue about the possibility of losing something that’s really critical to the health of our nation,” said Dr. Knapp, who recently testified before a House subcommittee on the benefits of humanities in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “This report is about keeping alive and present all those sources of knowledge that are perceived by other nations as something to emulate.”

The report recommends educating Americans in the knowledge, skills and understanding they need to thrive in a 21st century democracy; fostering a society that is innovative, competitive and strong; and equipping the nation for leadership in an interconnected world. Specific recommendations surround the importance of literacy, investment in research and discovery, strengthening support for teachers, promoting language learning and developing a “culture corps” that transmits humanistic and social scientific expertise from one generation to the next.

“We signed on to be members of this commission not because we think the humanities and social sciences are the only good thing in the world but because we believe that they are a necessary part of all the good things in the world,” said Richard Brodhead, co-chair of the commission and president of Duke University. “We wanted to make some practical suggestions as to how these causes could be furthered.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers discussed the importance the humanities had in educating great philosophers and the nation’s founding fathers, and said the humanities need the attention and support science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines have garnered in recent years.

Rep. Price said the humanities are a crucial piece of the nation’s ability to innovate and compete, to strengthen analytic skills essential for national security and to preserve culture and provide an understanding of what it means to be an American citizen.

“All of this is critical to our country’s future and very much tied up with our ability to encourage support and develop the humanities and social sciences,” he said.

Officials said they will use the report to guide their advocacy.

“I hope that we will take this good work the commission has made and let it be a tool that we’ll introduce into some of our ongoing debates and discussions,” Sen. Warner said.