Blog Post

Humanities Indicators

 

This is a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences thatincludes a number of "Humanities Indicators" about the general state ofthe humanities for the American public. Instead of blaming theInternet for "the dumbest generation," perhaps we should be lookingmore deeply, profoundly, and sensitively at the humanistic values ofthe society in which we live. Here are two such "humanitiesindicators":

Adult literacy in the United States is polarized. Among Westernindustrialized nations, we rank near the top in the percentage ofhighly literate adults (21%), but also near the top in the proportionwho are functionally illiterate (also 21%).

Public concern about K-12 teacher qualifications has focused mainly onmath and science, but data reveal that the humanities fields suffer aneven more glaring dearth of well-prepared teachers. In 2000, thepercentage of middle (29%) and high school (37.5%) students taught by ahighly qualified history teacher was lower than for any other majorsubject area.  And one more:  Humanities faculty are the most poorly paid. They also have a higherproportion of part-time, non-tenured positions compared to theircounterparts in the sciences and engineering. (But almost half ofhumanities faculty indicate that they are "very satisfied" with theirjobs overall.  Which half?  Perhaps the tenured half?)

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Here's the report, with links:

 

Today the Academy publicly unveils a prototype set of the Humanities Indicators. We have collected for the first time in one place empirical data about the humanities in America - material to give us information about, for example, what is being taught in the humanities, how they are funded, the size of the workforce, and public attitudes toward the field.

This online resource is modeled after the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators, published biennially since 1973 and providing comprehensive data about the nation's science and technology enterprise. The prototype set of Humanities Indicators is a preliminary effort at producing what we hope will be a robust source of data over time.

The availability of this prototype set of Indicators is the culmination of a multiyear effort under the Academy's Initiative for Humanities and Culture, an effort involving dozens of Fellows and collaboration with nearly every major learned society and national humanities organization. The process has resulted in the creation of a national network of organizations and individuals committed to the future well-being of the humanities.
The Humanities Indicators provide scholars, policymakers, and the public with a first-ever statistical picture of the state of the humanities in the United States, and will help inform analysis of this critical component of our national cultural and intellectual life. Data in the Indicators reveal, for example:

Adult literacy in the United States is polarized. Among Western industrialized nations, we rank near the top in the percentage of highly literate adults (21%), but also near the top in the proportion who are functionally illiterate (also 21%).

Public concern about K-12 teacher qualifications has focused mainly on math and science, but data reveal that the humanities fields suffer an even more glaring dearth of well-prepared teachers. In 2000, the percentage of middle (29%) and high school (37.5%) students taught by a highly qualified history teacher was lower than for any other major subject area.

Humanities faculty are the most poorly paid. They also have a higher proportion of part-time, non-tenured positions compared to their counterparts in the sciences and engineering. But almost half of humanities faculty indicate that they are "very satisfied" with their jobs overall.

Charitable giving to arts and cultural organizations grew between the mid-1990s and early 2000s before leveling off. But little of public or private sector funding for the humanities goes to academic research. This trend undermines both academia and the public since public institutions rely on humanities scholars to provide much of the knowledge on which their activities are based.

Since the early 1970s, the number of Americans who support the banning of books from public libraries because they espouse atheism, extreme militarism, communism, or homosexuality decreased by at least 11 percentage points, although 26% to 34% of the public still supports banning some types of books. In the case of books advocating homosexuality, the decline was a particularly significant 20 percentage points.
I am grateful to the leaders of the Initiative: Norman Bradburn (National Opinion Research Council); Jonathan Cole (Columbia University); Denis Donoghue (New York University); Steven Marcus (Columbia University); Francis C. Oakley (Williams College); and Patricia Meyer Spacks (University of Virginia), and to the many other Fellows and colleagues who have advanced this work. Special mention should be given to Norman Bradburn, who led the work to organize the Indicators into a cohesive whole.

You can view the Indicators at www.HumanitiesIndicators.org. We welcome your comments and input.
Leslie Berlowitz
Chief Executive Officer

P.S. Please save March 9 for a national symposium in Washington, D.C. on Humanities and Culture in a Civil Society. Confirmed speakers include David Souter, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Don Michael Randel, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Patricia Stonesifer, the new chairwoman of the Smithsonian Institution and senior advisor to the trustees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Francis Oakley, president emeritus of Williams College; and Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond. Program information, invitation, and RSVP forms will follow. For questions about this event, please contact Elizabeth Huttner at 617-576-5093 or ehuttner@amacad.org.

humanities@amacad.org

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1 comment

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