Nussbaum’s remarks at Colgate University

Thanks to Andy Daddio for this brilliant photo. Truly the Daddio of Scholarly Photography!

When it comes to a defence of the liberal arts in Higher Education, Martha Nussbaum is a matriarch. While some have criticised her universalism, and tendency towards vague aspiration, she nonetheless retains a dominant position in the field of debate. Dr Nussbaum hold a BA from NYU, a PhD from Harvard, also teaching at Brown and Oxford. She has long defended the intrinsic rather than the instrumental value of the humanities. (see Cultivating Humanity or more recently Not for Profit)

I came across a great wordpress blog – GlobalHigherEd edited by Kris Olds (Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Susan Robertson (Professor, University of Bristol).

I was particularly taken with this post which featured an awesome word cloud of Nussbaum’s Commencement speech at private liberal arts school Colgate in New York 2010

There is access to the entire speech here in the Colgate archive. The speech is similar to the argument in Not for Profit, but has some moving passages which articulate the current educational climate most effectively. I have chosen a few here.

The type of liberal education you have 
received, however, is under assault all over
the world in our time of economic anxiety, as
all nations compete to keep or increase their
share in the global market…

Critical argument gives people a way of being responsible: when politicians bring simplistic rhetoric their way, they won’t just accept it or reject it on the basis of a prior ideological commitment, they will investigate and argue, thinking for themselves, and learning to understand themselves. And when argument, not mere partisan feeling, takes the lead, people will also be able to interact with one another in a more reasonable way…

In twenty years, the world may remember the sort of education you have received as a distant memory. If that is the way the future unfolds, the world will be a scary place to live in. What will we have, if these trends continue? Nations of technically trained people who don’t know how to criticize authority, useful profit-makers with obtuse imaginations…

Education based mainly on profitability in the global market magnifies these deficiencies, producing a greedy obtuseness and a technically trained docility that threaten the very life of democracy itself, and that certainly impede the creation of a decent world culture. 

Fighting talk. 

Above is the Wordle graphics that the aforementioned Kris Olds has formulated from Nussbaums speech – I think it is a great visualisation of her rationalised and universal argument.  

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