October 18, 2013
How Can My Passions Impact the World? One Middle School Student’s Love of What Makes Us Human
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Grace Bechdol

Grace is a 12-year-old student from Auburn, Indiana who wrote about her passion for the humanities as part of her Speech class. She was kind enough to share her love of the humanities with us, which you will find below. 

 

Imagine four college friends sitting together to ponder life’s most challenging questions.  The graduate with a science degree asks the question, “Why does it work?”   The engineering graduate asks, “How does it work?”   The graduate with a management degree asks, “How much will it cost?”  And the graduate with an arts degree asks the most probing question of all…”Do you want fries with that?”

There is a prevailing view that English, art history and music are not the courses of study that will earn a big paycheck – and maybe no paycheck at all!  Instead, there is more emphasis than ever today on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM studies – in order to create jobs, grow our economy and deliver those BIG paychecks.  Don’t get me wrong, I love math and science and work really hard in these classes.  But, I love English, social studies, religion, French, Latin, and speech even more!  And, I would argue that studying for a literature test, writing more than a dozen essays on the Constitution, and even writing and delivering an original speech is even harder!

The Humanities matter to me.  I recently learned that when you put all of these things I love to study and do together, they are called the “humanities”.  Maybe that makes me a humanist.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the humanities as “the branches of learning (as philosophy, arts, or languages) that investigate human constructs and concerns as opposed to natural processes (as in physics or chemistry).”   I love to think about the questions of why things happen – not just “how” things happen.

Outside of school, I have discovered that even my extracurricular activities support my self-appointed title of humanist.  I play piano, train in classical ballet, am a four-year 4-H member, love to travel and visit museums, attend the Garrett United Methodist Church, go to the movies, help on our family farm and spend time with my friends.  These are just some of my passions – some I have in common with others, but when you put them all together, these are the things that make me…ME!

The Humanities matter to all students.  Sadly, students are losing ground in the humanities and aren’t achieving in these studies.  Take geography as an example.  A 2006 National Geographic study of 4th, 8th and 12th graders across the country showed  that 63% of these young Americans couldn’t find Iraq on a map and 50% couldn’t locate New York.   Technology has contributed to this – we all have GPS systems in our family cars and GoogleMaps on our phones.  We don’t use a paper map, atlas or have globes in our classrooms anymore.  And, because our keyboarding skills are more important than our handwriting skills, we no longer learn cursive-writing in elementary school.

Funding for the humanities unfortunately continues to decline.  According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2011 humanities research received only 0.48% of the total amount dedicated to science and engineering research at colleges and universities.  High schools and universities are also cutting the budgets of their English, foreign language and arts departments.

The Humanities matter to everyone…everywhere.  Tomorrow’s jobs and careers require more than just technical skills.  They will require imagination, creativity, vision and communication.  Do you know why Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, hired a calligrapher to help design the first MAC computer?  Steve Jobs wanted every Apple product to not just be a technology game-changer, but he wanted them all to be artistic, to be beautiful and eye-appealing.  Steve Jobs considered himself to be “a person at the intersection of liberal arts and technology.”

When we watch our government shut-down and the bickering and narrow-minded arguing taking place, and when we know we need to develop relationships with people in China, the Middle East and around the globe, it makes us wonder why we don’t make a greater effort to study and understand our similarities and differences, our cultures, our histories, and our religions.  This year, my family traveled to France and Italy.  The history, the architecture, the art, the language and even the food were amazing and inspiring.  More importantly, they were unique – these were the things that defined the French and the Italians!  We have that too – as Hoosiers and as Americans.

So how do I – a 12-year old from Auburn, Indiana – take my own love for the humanities and impact the world?  It certainly sounds like a daunting or even impossible task.  But, it is actually quite simple…I get to keep doing all the things I love.  I will take the classes I love.  I hope I get to keep traveling – maybe to the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, or an African safari – but not just to far-off places – places close to home too, like the Johnny Appleseed Festival, the Chicago Museum of Art, or the Indiana State Fair.  I aspire to be the next Marie Taglioni or Sergei Rachmaninov – dancing with the Joffrey or performing at Lincoln Center.  I will sing in the shower.  I will read every chance I get – the newspaper, Shakespeare, a movie review, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  I will talk to people I know about the arts, a good book, a song I love, tell them a great joke, debate the politics of the day, share my faith, and write a note to a friend – and by the way, it will be a hand-written note, not a text or email, and maybe even in cursive!

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