Panelists at the Value of a Liberal Arts Degree discussion on March 6. PHOTO: DENI VERKLAN

Call for revolution at Rye’s liberal arts panel

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By Deni Verklan

There needs to be a “revolution” in the humanities said speakers at Ryerson’s Value of a Liberal Arts Degree panel on March 6.

Panelists and students gathered at the George Vari Engineering Centre to discuss the lack of variety in Canadian liberal arts courses.

“In a sense, we, in the humanities, have failed,” John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International, said.

“We’ve forgotten, to some extent, the roots in the humanities are not in the utilitarian, but in relevance.”

The “utilitarian” refers to the humanities courses offered in Canadian universities that have “inherited” 400 years of “European university tradition.”

In Canada, students can choose between the French or the English European university tradition where they learn about the language and culture they picked.

There is no combination of the two.

“We have not rethought literature in terms of Canada. We actually teach literature as if Canada does not exist,” said Saul.

PEN international is a worldwide association of writers promoting freedom of expression through text.

“There is a desperate need to move in the other direction and say ‘let’s do something that they’re not doing. (…) Let’s do something that’s relevant.’”

Saul was joined by fellow panellists Marianne Hirsch, President of the Modern Languages Association, and Stephen Slemon, president of the Association of Community College a University of Teachers of English (ACCUTE) to determine past problems in the humanities and creating a more relevant future.

Hirsch said that humanitarians should get out of the “crisis mode” and stop defending the validity of a liberal arts degree.

“[It’s up to us] to claim our accomplishments and assert the value of practicing new ways of thinking,” said Hirsch.

Saul said that many parents worry about their child getting a liberal arts degree because it may not lead to a definitive job outcome.

“[We have to be] open to the fact that educating kids with doubt and uncertainty is the greatest force and tool you can possibly give them. Educating kids with the certainty of measurement a fool’s paradise,” said Saul.

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