04/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Humanities: America's Great Formative Tradition Succumbing to the Financial Crisis

America's greatness as a nation has had many pillars. The industriousness of its people, the braveness of it soldiers, the fervor of its visionaries, the national sense of shared community and destiny, its ability to right its wrongs, to name but a few. Yet paramount to our pillar of nationhood has been our understanding and reverence for the humanities and the great lessons of the human mind and the experience of history, the formative dimension of classical thought and instruction. No, not everyone was or has been a classicist, but our founding fathers were immersed in their text and learning. It formed their character and was instrumental in forming the new nation. It was the humanities and the lessons learned through the struggles of the nation's young history that saw us through difficult times and made us understand the nature of where we are heading and imbued us with the knowledge and fortitude to overcome vicissitudes of the moment. The humanities taught us we were not alone in our moments of challenge, and through that knowledge we evolved the inner fortitude to see it through.

The humanities have provided an enormous resource and strength to our nation and our history as a people. And yet today, at this very moment of crisis where so much is at risk we stand ready to undermine one of the fundamental pillars of our society. An article from the New York Times "In Tough Times Humanities Must Justify Their Worth," informed that more and more colleges and universities are cutting back on their teaching of the humanities, their staffs and classes. The question of their worth and importance is raised in an increasingly complex and technologically demanding world. As example, college staff job listings for such as English and literature have had the sharpest declines in 34 years.

Given the implosion of what had been solid American values, that in recent years has mutated to the ugliness of rampant irresponsibility, self interest, greed, and civil and criminal fraud that have become the root cause of the financial meltdown, a renaissance and respect for the humanities that has in the past steered the nation to greatness are more urgently needed now than ever.

One need only go back to the Bush presidency to understand what lies ahead for a nation unschooled nor caring about the great texts, lessons, and values of history, art and literature. Here was a presidency of stubborn self-righteousness tempered by only a cursory understanding of the nation's tradition in the humanities. It was the presidency of a single-dimensioned man, forging through his mandate without the building blocks nor the strength derived from the past knowledge of the full spectrum of human experience which are the great lessons of life, to be tapped for wisdom, strength and guidance. Not in a single moment was this presidency able to invoke the brilliance of the English language and its profound well of inspiration and elucidation. The culture of others was too often misunderstood or simply not considered, and the guidance of mythologies past (what benefit might a rudimentary knowledge of the Icarus myth have wrought?) with their lessons through the ages were simply ignored nor ever learned at great risk in blood, treasure and morality to the nation as a whole.

As millions of dollars are being funneled to educational institutions throughout the land it is essential that the humanities not be ignored. That in some form or other they become basic to any degree of study. The rootless morality of current years cannot be allowed to continue. Not to impose conversion, but simply to teach that it is there, and that in the history of this nation there exist a set of values that constituted our founding and from whence those values were carried forward for more than two and a quarter centuries, and became core to the shaping of the nation's character. That without the respect and commitment to the humanities, the grimness and obduracy of the Bush presidency will become the paradigm for the evolution of the nation's future destiny. And that must not happen!