Arts, Humanities Key in Emerging Economy

by ekramer on July 11, 2008

The idea that the liberal arts are more important than ever is gaining believers from industry to health care to education. One of its staunchest proponents is in Louisville next week to make his case. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has this story.

Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” depicts American society moving from the technology-focused Industrial and Information ages to what he says is now upon us — the Conceptual Age. He argues that to remain competitive in a globalized economy, Americans have to be exceptionally creative and extract ideas from the arts and humanities. The world of business has been operating under this idea for years, but now it is beginning to take root in other areas.

At the University of Louisville Hospital, the Palliative Care team, which includes a chaplain and a counselor, is visiting an 85-year-old woman who has had brain trauma. Dr. Lori Earnshaw talks to the woman and her daughter.

“We were just here to see if we can help make you feel better and talk to your daughter about how we can get you help at home and make a plan for the future,” Earnshaw says. “Do you feel prepared?”

The team then goes into another room to speak with the daughter. They ask questions about her mother’s life, her mobility and health before her accident, her beliefs and her wishes for end-of-life care. They are discerning a story to understand this patient and help the family make difficult decisions.

Taking this approach to patient care is practically innate to Dr. Earnshaw, who earned her undergraduate degree in English.

“I just thought that if I was able to just hear people’s stories all day long, how neat that would be to be able to actually do something with them and make something positive come of that story,” Earnshaw says. “The way that somebody told their story really gave you clues to what was really bothering that patient.”

Daniel Pink notes the use of stories, a way of using the arts and humanities, to better treat patients. Medical students throughout the country are taking classes in the visual arts, literature and religion. Starting in January, U of L’s medical school will require students to take classes in religion, history and literature, including required readings by Dostoevsky and John Carlos Williams.

Pink differentiates between medical schools and elementary and secondary schools.

“What’s going on in medical schools is as remarkable as what’s not going on in elementary and secondary schools is distressing,” Pinks says.

Pink says this distressing situation arose during the last 20 years as legislation pushed elementary and secondary schools to focus on the basics and produce concrete results. Often, the methods emphasized rote learning to boost test scores and meant less time for the arts and humanities. Pink says instead of preparing children for the future, schools are educating them for a past economy.

Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent Sheldon Berman says educators throughout the country recognize this, and that is why they have invited Pink to speak at many professional conferences in recent years.

Berman says the Jefferson County Public School system has been developing strategies to help schools teach the basics and stir students’ creativity to enable them to understand increasingly complex concepts.

Sheldon Berman.

“We need to move them into a larger contest where they begin to see connections between the information that they’re receiving,” Berman says. “They need to be able to understand the big picture and the social circumstances around it.”

Berman and Pink agree that navigating that challenge while meeting the requirements set by legislators is difficult.

Daniel Pink explains why.

“The people who actually work in the system — the people teaching in the classroom, the principals of a building, the superintendents who run the system — they don’t set the rules. The legislators set the rules,” Pink says.

Many of those rules probably won’t change in the near future. Congress has yet to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, likely leaving the issue to the next president, and a recent poll shows Americans increasingly concerned about the current economy and less about education.

More information about the No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act

Association for Career and Technical Education, a national education association with a membership of educators, administrators, researchers, guidance counselors

National Education Association, a national professional organization of educators

The Public Education Network, a national association of community-based advocacy organizations that engage local citizens in public education reform

More information about the arts in education

Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy organization that has a national arts education public awareness campaign

The Arts Education Partnership, a national coalition of arts, education, business, philanthropic and government organizations

The National Art Education Association, a professional organization for art educators

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