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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Defending Humanities

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Defending Humanities

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With the termination of free tertiary education by the Government of Barbados, it was widely anticipated that the Faculty of Humanities at Cave Hill would have felt the harshest impact. Conditioned by the notion that only profession-driven degrees like law, medicine and accounting are useful, it was unlikely that a population new to paid education would have been eager to invest in subjects to which their anti-intellectual, dependent-capitalist societies have attached little value.

The situation has not been helped by recent uninformed pronouncements by some prominent graduates of the Faculty of Humanities itself. For example, historian and former trade unionist Robert “Bobby” Morris, in his new role of wide-eyed convert to unbridled capitalism, has claimed that given “the stage of development Barbados has reached”, financing emphasis should be placed on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) over the humanities.

Whilst the value of science and technology is undeniable, what is interesting is that these anti-humanities sentiments go against current higher education hiring practices in the very leading capitalist societies which our slow Caribbean mimic-men idolise as their ideal models.  

It is now regular practice by the leading Fortune 500 companies to scout the top students in the classics and humanities, as opposed those who do MBAs or related areas. It has been discovered that it is in the students of the liberal arts that can be found the communication and critical thinking skills badly needed for producing innovative ideas and original responses, especially in a context of crisis and heightened competition. For proof, the naysayers can simply google “why top CEOs want employees with liberal arts degrees”.

A recent follow-up study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska to their book Academically Adrift, written four years ago, noted that “within the large population of college graduates, those who were poorly taught are paying an economic price. Because they didn’t acquire vital critical thinking skills, they’re less likely to get a job and more likely to lose the jobs they get than students who received a good education”.

What is clear is that the Caribbean’s anti-humanities sentiments are part and parcel of the new dominance of neo-liberal doctrine in which assumed “market value” is now the measurement of the importance of everything. When translated to university education, these assumptions are reflected in obscene notions of “asses in classes” (backsides on benches) as the determinant of what the university should teach.

When viewed in this way too, the folly of the elevation of polytechnics and community colleges as part of the wave of anti-University of the West Indies sentiment which has taken root in recent times, becomes crystal clear. We can train as many people to fix and build things as our business rulers would like, but who will think, guide, manage and lead the society?

Remember, enslavement is letting someone think for you.

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.