Editor's Note
Seizing Opportunity with the Humanities

For those of us fortunate enough to have received a high-quality, humanities-rich education, it can be difficult to imagine standing in the shoes of those who did not. About four years ago now, the public library where I serve as a trustee hosted an educational program on Islam, sponsored through a grant from our state humanities council and presented by a retired professor of religion (who also happened to be an ordained Christian minister). As the event approached, it became something of a cause célèbre in town, with front page newspaper coverage and fiery letters to the editor denouncing the library and demanding cancellation of the program. Those of us on the governing board of the library were caught flat-footed—what could possibly be objectionable about an educational institution holding an educational program about a major world religion, a religion which, moreover, is observed by more than 3 million of our fellow Americans?

Ultimately, the standing-room-only event was a terrific success. Best of all, those rallying in support of the event were joined by those who had publicly expressed their objections, who listened attentively, learned, questioned the presenter with respect, and were treated in kind. Nor were they the only learners—while much of the presentation covered basic facts I remembered well from my school days, I also received my first primer on Islam in early America, a fascinating history which had been neglected or glossed over in my own years of formal education. The attendees came with different levels of prior knowledge, but we were all learning together.

Experiences like this make me thankful that we can now see the educational pendulum swinging back to embrace the humanities with the Every Student Succeeds Act's emphasis on a "well-rounded" education. This month at School Library Connection we ask how the school library can seize the day and help accelerate a burgeoning humanities renaissance.

"With their understanding of literature, application of technologies across the curriculum, and promoting the research process librarians are well suited to create opportunities for student creativity and critical thinking," Meghan Harper and Liz Deskins write this month in arguing that librarians need to exercise their professional training to "foster civic engagement" in their learners. How to go about this critical work? As a starting point, Anita Cellucci points our readers to Teaching Tolerance's social justice standards, as well as their framework for digital and civic literacy skills, which she uses as a lens in looking at the school's humanities curriculum and imagining where and how the library pieces in.

Other authors this month help us to see how we can shape these ideals into tangible programs. Among them, elementary school librarian Amy Harpe takes her young learners on a deep dive into local history, cultivating a sense of stewardship and a love of cultural and historic preservation along the way. Kerry Townsend and Peggy O'Connor share the evolution of their world-class Authors in Schools program in Colombia, Missouri. "In the end," they write, "the humanities are about storytelling. They are about people taking ordinary or extraordinary human experiences and recording, interpreting, and challenging us to understand them through the lens of our own time."

As keepers and sharers of stories, school librarians are natural leaders for education's new humanities renaissance. Our spaces are dedicated to serving our communities' life-long learning needs, which include not only hard sciences but also the full spectrum of the human experience, including the social sciences and the arts. Carpe diem!

David Paige, Managing Editor

MLA Citation Paige, David. "Seizing Opportunity with the Humanities." School Library Connection, October 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2227762.

View all citation styles

Entry ID: 2227762

Back to Top