California Humanities Week, today through Oct. 19, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the California Council for the Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The council's goals include strengthening the role of the humanistic disciplines in contemporary society and supporting community activities that increase awareness of California history and culture. The following is excerpted from the 1984 California Humanities Lecture, "The Humanities and Our Future," by David Pierpont Gardner, president of the University of California:
The conditions of contemporary life, I'm convinced, make education more important than ever--and the same is true for the humanities. Humanists and those who value humanistic knowledge now have two great opportunities: to bring about lasting and vigorous reform in our schools, and to see that the humanities are a strong and persuasive voice in that movement.
There's one thing we don't need to do. We don't need to save the humanities. If they have something to contribute to modern life--and they indisputably do--they'll survive and, in fact, thrive.
It will be uphill work, however. I was reminded of that recently by a television commercial. A young boy, being driven to school by his father in the family's sleek new car, asks morosely why he has to study math. The answer is immediate and enthusiastic. "Don't you realize, son," the father says, "that this car couldn't have been built without mathematics? Or that a computer is what keeps the engine in top running condition?" He is so eloquent that by the time they reach the schoolyard the boy is convinced. "OK, Dad," he says as he gets out of the car, "I understand why I have to study math. Now why do I have to study Latin?"