Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The liberal arts are indeed liberating

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An interesting article in the NY Times by Abby Goodnough on providing school drop-outs who are young mothers a good education that goes beyond simple job-skills training to teach humanities and liberal arts:

High school was a lost cause for Priscilla Rivera, a child of the downcast mill city of Holyoke, Mass. “I went to school with the attitude, ‘Oh, this is hard, and I’m not going to do it,’ ” Ms. Rivera said recently. “After a while, the teachers gave up on me. They were like, ‘If you don’t want to do your work, just put your head down.’ ”

She dropped out after the ninth grade, had a baby a year later and went on welfare. Two years ago, the state referred her to the Care Center, an alternative education program where young mothers work toward their G.E.D.’s, and can get parenting instruction, college-transition support and other services.

For much of last year, Ms. Rivera, now 21, also studied philosophy, art, literature and history, just as students do at Smith, Amherst and the cluster of other elite colleges in this region of western Massachusetts. She was one of several young mothers enrolled in the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a program for the poor offered by the Care Center and about 15 other organizations across the country. The course aims to provide what Earl Shorris, who started it at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York City in 1995, called “an avenue to reflection.” Such avenues are hard to come by in Holyoke, which has among the highest dropout and teenage pregnancy rates in the state.

Mr. Shorris, who died in May, rejected the notion that the poor should focus on learning practical skills to prepare for mostly low-paying jobs. He believed that studying the humanities would teach them how to reflect on the world, putting them on more equal footing with the privileged class.

The course is taught by local college professors at the Care Center, which provides transportation and child care. It is held two days a week and is open to low-income women of all ages as well as Care Center regulars like Ms. Rivera. Those who complete the course will earn six credits from Bard College, which oversees the program nationally. This year’s students, from age 18 to 58, included homeless women, victims of domestic violence, recovering addicts and others for whom day-to-day existence is often excruciating.

“There’s a way in which the course asks people to examine their life and what they are seeing around them more deeply,” said Anne Teschner, the Care Center’s executive director. “Living in poverty can be very constricting, so to bring those more expansive ideas into the world of people struggling economically is really empowering.”

One day in March, Ms. Rivera and her classmates sat in a basement classroom discussing the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The students questioned why it was necessary. One asked, “Why isn’t the list of grievances enough?” . . .

Continue reading. Education, in my view, properly opens a broader window on life than can be done simply through teaching skills. This is not to denigrate skills, which are important and even essential—just as protein is important and essential but alone is insufficient to sustain life: one also needs fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and the various micronutrients such as the vitamins and minerals. Indeed, there’s an illness associated with high-protein diets deficient in fat—as I recall, in the West some experienced this when they were reduced to eating rabbit and fish, both relatively low in fat. The result is a debilitating weakness.

The point is that the human mind needs human culture for its full development and expression, and to give it the resources to deal with the richness of life. Mere vocational skills are insufficient. The program offered by the Care Center is more likely to ensure long-term life success than a simple vocational training program: it will awaken the students to what their lives can be and give them tools with which to explore and grow.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

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