What Americans Think About the Humanities

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On Monday, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a 100-page report called “The Humanities in American Life.” It comprises the results from a national survey administered last November. The researchers asked more than 5,000 respondents about their engagement in “humanistic activities” and their attitudes toward humanities education.

On the whole, the report’s findings should encourage most humanities workers, including social studies teachers and historians. But careful examination of the details may be especially useful. This report identifies important discrepancies or tensions in public attitudes.

Champions of humanities education should be prepared to expose or remedy—or exploit—these tensions. There are both dangers and opportunities here.

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Facing Facts (and Avoiding Alarmism)

pewreport-factopinion-1This morning, I saw a Reuters story with an alarming lede: “Only a quarter of U.S. adults in a recent survey could fully identify factual statements—as opposed to opinion—in news stories, the Pew Research Center found in a study released on Monday.”

Well, that doesn’t sound good, I thought.

This seems like important territory for history instruction to address. It might also provide a useful reading for students. So I pulled up the Pew report in question: “Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News” (by Amy Mitchell, Jeffrey Gottfried, Michael Barthel and Nami Sumida, dated June 18, 2018).

There’s a lot to like about the way this study was conducted. But I have concerns.

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