My sixth grade teacher, Don Anders, read poetry to the class each Friday afternoon. He read from The Best Loved Poems of the American People and liked to recite “Casey at the Bat” and its successors, “Casey’s Revenge” and “Casey Twenty Years Later.” These were wonderful stories of overconfidence, failure, and redemption.
Aside from the astounding accomplishment of making poetry interesting to a 12-year old boy, Mr. Anders also taught that one could better understand sports, and any other day-to-day life experience, through the lens of the humanities. Even fictional stories in a large anthology of poems could influence how we handled real life.
I loved Mr. Anders and those Friday afternoons listening to him read poems which rhymed. We were all wiser because he helped us understand the perspectives of others. When asked why one should read literature, C.S. Lewis said:
“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as our own. Literature is a series of windows, even of doors.” The humanities help us see with other eyes.
Accordingly, I often ask others how the humanities have influenced your life. Have you read a book which changed you, met a person who taught you, or wrestled with a moral challenge which formed your character?
The most powerful responses, however, come when I ask people to imagine a life without the humanities; without an understanding of history, or access to books or the opportunity to discuss religion, philosophy or ethics. I can’t imagine such a life. I can’t imagine how a free nation, or a free market, survives when the humanities are ignored or forgotten.
If we just stopped promoting the humanities . . . stopped reading history and literature and philosophy . . . if we discontinued the family reading programs and grants to community organizations around the state . . . if we stopped funding speakers and teachers and high school poetry competitions, would it matter to you? If it does, would you tell me why? Drop me a line at Florida Humanities Council, 599 Second Street S, St. Petersburg FL 33701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org