Report - Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences

Report - Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences

A Global Imperative

Participation in a global economy requires understanding of diverse cultures and

awareness of different perspectives. The humanities and social sciences teach us

how to understand, interpret, and respect our commonalities and our differences.

That mutual respect makes it possible for people around the world to work together to

address issues such as environmental sustainability and global health challenges. Now

more than ever, the spirit of international cooperation, the promotion of trade and foreign

investment, the requirements of international diplomacy, and even the enhancement

of national security depend in some measure on an American citizenry trained

in humanistic and social scientific disciplines, including languages, transnational studies,

1 moral and political philosophy, global ethics, and international relations.

These themes were central to American intellectual life during the middle decades

of the twentieth century, and formed the basis of large-scale government investment

in education. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the G.I. Bill) and, more

explicitly, the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (ndea) were among the largest,

but by no means the only, government-sponsored programs that encouraged greater

diffusion of knowledge about the United States, its culture, and its place in the world.

When President Eisenhower signed the ndea, he called the act an “emergency undertaking”

designed to help the nation “meet the broad and increasing demands imposed

upon it by considerations of basic national security.” 2 As the “emergency” of the Cold

War and its ideological imperatives become a distant memory, these programs and

the intellectual aspirations they supported have receded. In light of new economic and

security challenges, the nation needs to reinvest in international education.

Develop Critical Intercultural Skills

A 2012 report from the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Education Reform and

National Security, makes clear that new challenges at home and abroad require us to

develop a new sense of urgency about our education system. 3 We need to build global

perspectives into all educational curricula and provide all Americans with opportunities

to investigate other cultures as well as their own. The ong>Commissionong> therefore calls

for a national commitment to building critical intercultural skills at every stage of the

education system.

This commitment should begin at the federal level, to signal the importance of a

global education to the life of every American as well as to the security and competitiveness

of the nation. We recommended earlier in this report that k-12 education

should prepare students to be capable citizens of this nation; but in the twenty-first

The Heart of the Matter 57

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