When my Upper School students read works by Homer and Euripides in the Ancient Greece elective, they are simultaneously reflecting on ancient history while making connections to our modern world. For example, the stories of Medea and Alcestis could fit right in with the current #metoo movement with women contemplating their path against gender inequality. The cognitive and emotional struggles that Odysseus deals with in his wanderings after the Trojan War are not dissimilar to what we see in our family and friends who have experienced violence.
One character who rings true for me is Demodokus, the singer in “The Odyssey,” who reminds me of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” because through his songs, he is able to share with his audience a greater understanding of the war’s effects on those who were fighting. This is empathy.
Another class I teach is Theory of Knowledge in which we discuss the Arts, Natural Sciences, and Ethics as three of several Areas of Knowledge. We talk about how we know when advances in science and technology are ‘good’ ethically. Some share knowledge they have gained from reading a novel or watching a movie. They have no direct experience, yet these works created by others have helped shape their position on issues, and the students feel confident in how they propose we should develop as a people.
The humanities are vital to our lives today as much as (or maybe more than) science and technology. They create empathy and understanding which motivate us to make thoughtful and appropriate strides in STEM. We are not able to know with certainty without direct experience and personal knowledge, but the humanities contribute greatly in understanding a great deal more about our world and equip us to have meaningful conversations about a wide variety of subjects. Up with the humanities!
“Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me;
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.”
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