Education and Academia

How history is taught, and why that matters!

Current EventsThe War for the Humanities

Selling the Humanities is Not Selling Out

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Editor’s Note: This article is a follow-up from an article I wrote for Inside Higher Ed, “The Humanities Must Unite or Die.

I recently met a young woman struggling over the decision of whether to go to college. She was enrolled in an excellent program for bright high-schoolers from low-income families, which was intended to give them a leg-up into STEM majors (and then, STEM careers). Any university would be lucky to have her—she is smart, motivated and articulate. She would be a first-generation college attendee. But she was torn.

The prospect of a five-figure loan to finance her education—while her parents struggle to make ends meet—felt risky, even irresponsible. She wondered whether, instead, to take a job right out of high school, particularly since she was unsure whether she even liked the STEM subjects promoted by the program.

STEM has been promoted by programs like this one—not to mention by government programs and presidential initiatives—as the sure path to a lucrative career, despite numerous studies indicating that it is little better than the arts and humanities at providing jobs after graduation. As a result, as college attendance rates have dropped for low-income students, those low-income students who remain have chosen to major in STEM fields far more than the arts and humanities.

The Washington Post recently reported a disturbing trend: between 2008 and 2013, “college enrollment among the poorest high school graduates—defined as those from the bottom 20 percent of family incomes—dropped 10 percentage points… the largest sustained drop in four decades.” This is particularly alarming because, “more than half of the nation’s K–12 public school students are considered to be from low-income families.” Ten percent of this population represents a very large number of people, including, possibly, the bright, conflicted young woman I met.

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Education and AcademiaPolitics

Shame on you, Niall Ferguson

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A Famous Harvard Historian’s Remarks on Paris Misuse History to Push a Racist, Islamophobic Agenda

Around the world, people continue to struggle to make what sense can be made of the attacks in Paris. An historian’s job in such crises is to offer context and balance, to show how the past helps us understand these events and resist knee-jerk overreactions. In a debate stuffed with ideologues, historians must be among the adults in the room.

Instead, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson elected to throw gasoline on the fires of Islamophobia. In an article published in the Times of London, and syndicated internationally in the Boston Globe, and the Australian, he grossly misuses the past to promote hateful ideology.

In it, Ferguson presents an apocalyptic prophesy where Europe stands as a new Roman Empire in decay. Europe, as Rome before it, “has allowed its defenses to crumble,” has “grown decadent,” and “has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.” He is abundantly clear who those “outsiders” are: “they have come from all over the imperial periphery — from North Africa, from the Levant, from South Asia … in their millions.”

Looking at the Paris attacks, he intones: “this is exactly how civilizations fall.”

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