My friend John Dyer sent me the link to this interesting site: The Spirit of the New Humanities: A Brief Introduction by Richard E. Miller, <http://www.newhum.com/>. This take on the "humanities" is in contrast to what I remember taking in high school and college. Miller's book/course uses contemporary non-fiction narratives to help student think about modern problems and their complexity. It seems "practical."
In humanities classes I remember, we chronologically studied "art" - literature, fine art, music and architecture - to more or less delve into the really big themes like man's relationship to God and stuff like that. Puzzling over "the human condition" as portried in classical art forms was the goal, not solving less abstract issues like global warming and poverty.
Roman ruins at Jerash, Jordan, November 2008. Doric, Corinthian or Ionic?
Personally, I like Miller's contemporary approach to humanities for one simple reason. Based solely on my own experience, traditional humanities instruction is wasted on the young.
From the humanities classes I've taken, I think I can still remember the difference between Ionic, Corinthian and Doric columns and that's about it. In fact most of what I remember from all my high school and college classes would probably take me less than a couple hours to write down. Now I am awfully glad I was taught to read, write and solve math problems (through geometry anyway). I appreciate that I was taught some basics of science and government and public speaking. But way too much information simply went way over my head. I didn't have any life experiences to which I could relate artists' commentary.
Now I am all in favor of using Shakespeare and Brugel and Dvorak and Chartres Cathedral to explore "the human condition." But let's wait until the learner is, say, 45 or so. A few life experiences - like having a bad boss - might help one understand what Dante was getting at when designing the Inferno. At a younger age, practiality ought to be rule.
I hate to see education wasted on the young.