AAAS Report, The Heart of the Matter

HeartOn June 19, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences released The Heart of the Matter, and the communication arts & sciences are featured prominently in the Commission’s report.

In answering a bipartisan request from Congress to “assess the state of humanistic and social scientific scholarship and education,” the report offers a comprehensive statement on the role of the humanities in American life, asserting that the humanities are essential to efforts to achieve important national goals: educating Americans in the knowledge and skills they need to thrive; fostering an innovative and competitive society; and equipping the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

In sections devoted to K-12 education, colleges, research, cultural institutions, and international security and competitiveness, the Commission makes 12 recommendations:

  • Support full literacy as the foundation for all learning;
  • Create cohesive curricula to ensure basic competencies;
  • Strengthen support for teachers;
  • Increase access to online resources;
  • Invest in the preparation of citizens;
  • Increase investment in research and discovery;
  • Encourage all disciplines to address Grand Challenges;
  • Communicate the importance of research to the public;
  • Promote language learning;
  • Expand education in international affairs and transnational studies;
  • Support study abroad and international exchange programs; and
  • Create new partnerships to increase public engagement.

Peppered throughout the report are conclusions and recommendations that recognize the role and power of the communication arts & sciences as both a humanities discipline and a social science. Indeed, the opening paragraph of the report’s Executive Summary highlights communication: “As we strive to create a more civil public discourse, a more adaptable and creative workforce, and a more secure nation, the humanities and social sciences are the heart of the matter, the keeper of the republic—a source of national memory and civic vigor, cultural understanding and communication, individual fulfillment and the ideals we hold in common.”

The Heart of the Matter recognizes the need to “foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong,” arguing that such a society emerges when educators focus on “problem-solving, critical analysis, and communication skills.” The report praises the Common Core initiative’s emphasis on “skills in communications,” and it recognizes the value and relevance of communication skills as central to a “liberal education” and as desirable for employers and employees in the expanding global marketplace. The Commission also “calls for a national commitment to building critical intercultural skills at every stage of the education system,” skills that are undeniably rooted in the enhanced appreciation of intercultural communication.

The Commission’s recognition of the relevance and role of the communication arts & sciences for the humanities and social sciences in general is best illustrated by its call for an enhanced national commitment to a truly liberal arts educational system: “There is no reason liberal arts education cannot flourish in a new environment using new tools. The future will still need the human skills that the liberal arts promote, and perhaps will need them more than ever: skills in communication, interpretation, linking and synthesizing domains of knowledge, and imbuing facts with meaning and value.”

JamiesonThe co-chairs of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences were Duke University President Richard Brodhead and retired Exelon Corporation CEO John W. Rowe. The Commission included scores of scholars, artists, journalists, and higher education administrators. Also serving on the Commission was Kathleen Hall Jamieson (right), Professor of Communication and Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Major funding for the Commission came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

To read The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation, click here.