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Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Republicans try to do away with arts funding again

Filed Under: Arts & Entertainment | Opinion | Politics
More on: elizabeth cook-lynn, native sun news, republicans

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Photo: Arizona State University Department of Archives and Special Collections

Doing away with National Arts and Humanities is nonsense
By Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
Native Sun News Today Columnist

There is a crisis in humanities funding these days linking the discordance between the humanities and the university systems to the Republican Congress where the decisions are made about money. The recent threat to cut the budget for the National Art and Humanities Department, or, worse, do away with public funding for the arts entirely has probably always been a form of apprehension and conflict since the first Harvard lecture series on the subject was given in the 1920’s.

In the United States scholars have been writing for most of the 20th century about the “crisis in the humanities’ and it is not just about money. Nor is it just about the very structure of the humanities. It is also about the sciences exerting a dominant influence on the activities of communities since the turn of the 20th century, their universities and the character and the customs of our society.

The modern university is an odd place for the humanities because it is filled mostly with pre-professional students wanting the tech skills demanded by industrial and postindustrial economies. As a former college professor I’ve had my share of experiences in trying to help bored, ill-prepared adolescents want to know more about the great literatures and arts and philosophies of the world in academic departments that believe they should function just as departments of chemistry and mechanical engineering do with an eye toward accreditation, job markets, progress in repairing bridges and making weapons of mass destruction.

For me the argument about what to teach the young has always brought up the issue of accessing knowledge that helps you analyze and think great thoughts. This is a complicated world and it is essential that the training the humanities gives the mind in forming logical arguments, writing and expression be given equal power with the ability to go to war or seek economic power or control nature. This requires formal education which stresses abstract reasoning while downplaying economics and patriotism or citizenship or even religion. As a society we must act collectively when faced with unsatisfactory choices. And we need all the help we can get.

New technologies have opened many possibilities and we fear that scholarly work and libraries and the Arts will be replaced by the Media, Wikipedia and the smart phone, Google Books and the blatting of conservative populists like Sarah Palin who talks constantly about “common sense” and the inferiority of formal education, art, humanities studies, etc., to just plain old “moral” and “general” education.

This is not new in our national dialogue as those who have read Thomas Paine’s writings on one of the most potent strains of democratic politics which perhaps unintentionally has helped to say that formal education and the Arts are inferior to other forms of expression and, worse, elitist. The value and importance of the National Arts and Humanities does not stand in the way of anyone’s dreams for Making America Great.

It is not counterproductive to the idea that we can learn from the past and press on to greater visions. Yet, it is under attack from the threat of vicious cuts in public financial support and the demagoguery of right-wing politicians, the sub-literate garbage dump of talk radio and twitter; more troubling, it has driven away students who believe the field unworthy of their time and effort. Humanities professors, teachers and developers are never given credit for what they and the twentieth century offer in terms of history, race, sexuality and post-colonial studies.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Doing away with National Arts and Humanities is nonsense

(Contact Elizabeth Cook-Lynn at

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