It’s Thanksgiving, a holiday associated with food, family, and football. College football’s biggest rivals—Auburn and Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan, Georgia and Georgia Tech—are getting ready to tee it up. So what’s that got to do with the humanities? Quite a lot if you ask this birthright #georgiabulldogs fan. It’s not just that the University of Georgia (UGA) has an impressive Humanities Center that does great work in the community or that Georgia football has given athletes the opportunity to learn to love the humanities. And it’s not just that in-state rival Georgia Tech is the latest in a late-season gauntlet of engineering schools—Auburn and Texas A&M down, LSU up next week. For me, it’s much deeper and more personal.
Let me explain with some family history. I did not attend #uga; my parents did. That’s why I have always been and will always be a Dawg. They both studied the humanities there, majoring in history, and have modeled lifelong learning as avid readers. My father adapted the fundamental critical thinking skills he gained to a variety of legal and financial fields, from litigation to corporate law to private equity. He survived some significant setbacks and ultimately thrived by making prudent and ethical decisions that, informed by the lessons of history, prioritized core values and long-term performance over short-term gains. My mother built a successful interior design business from scratch thanks to her remarkable ability to empathize with her clients and achieve their aesthetic vision rather than impose her own tastes.
These wonderful people taught my siblings and me to love the humanities from day one. And they encouraged us to choose the college we preferred and study whatever we were most passionate about because that is how you achieve true success—on your own terms. My older sister was an English major. After working in marketing and communications, she applied her writing and speaking skills, reflective capacities, and relentless curiosity about people to build a successful coaching practice. She has facilitated transformative healing for countless clients using wisdom and practices drawn from a wide variety of cultures. My older brother studied (and continues to study) history, the lessons of which he applies every day as he helps our government to promote our democratic values and interests abroad while avoiding the missteps of the past.
But the gifts of the humanities to our family run much deeper than effectively preparing us all for diverse careers. They are on display at Thanksgiving dinner, where we quickly progress from what we are most thankful for, to our evolving conceptions of the good life to what we feel are our society’s most pressing concerns. There are, of course, many things about which we disagree; conflicts occasionally emerge. But we have never stopped grappling with fundamental questions of meaning and value, sharing what we are learning with one another and learning from one another, changing and growing all along the way. And when the going gets tough, there’s always Georgia football banter to smooth over any rough edges—hey, how bout them Dawgs?!
That’s why I love the humanities—because people I love and admire taught me to love them from birth, just like they taught me to love the Dawgs. Of course, many important teachers, from elementary school through grad school, cultivated that love. And every day, people keep teaching me to love the humanities even more.
First and foremost, my wife Sarah—a modern languages and literatures major who applies her language skills and intercultural competencies to help improve reproductive health care for women in French-speaking West Africa. She constantly challenges me to imagine the world from the perspective of those denied the privileges we benefit from every day. My three-year-old daughter—who LOVES reading, mastering new words, and learning about other cultures (and for whom, a TV is strictly a Georgia Bulldogs viewing device). My courageous students at Western Carolina University—many of whom are working full-time and raising families as they pursue their degree. I’m inspired by how these students trust themselves enough to wrestle with the similarities and differences among the world’s religious traditions, even though many come from communities who tell them it’s a waste of time and money, or worse, a threat to their souls. Last but certainly not least, my talented colleagues here at NHA and the faculty and administrators around the country I am privileged to support as they work to attract students to the humanities. I’m inspired by the passion, dedication, and creativity each brings to this work every day.
If we don’t teach the next generation to love the humanities, our society will be impoverished, and the effects will compound with each generation. The humanities higher ed community has gone through some tough years since the Great Recession. I’ve been through some rough #georgiafootball seasons that taught me there is always hope in the next recruiting class. We’ve got a great team of committed folks fighting for the learning they love with innovative initiatives. There are promising prospects in the pipeline. And I know firsthand that the popular notion that the humanities don’t promote professional success is patently false. They empower people to achieve success on their own terms, serve society, and continuously reflect on how to do both better. #godawgs and #StudytheHumanities!
Thumbnail image: Pictured left to right - Scott Muir, NHA's Study the Humanities project director; his daughter, Eloise; and his wife, Sarah. Photo courtesy of Scott Muir.