The humanities and arts play a central role in the history of democracy, and yet today many parents are ashamed of children who study literature or art. Literature and philosophy have changed the world, but parents all over the world are more likely to fret if their children are financially illiterate than if their training in the humanities is deficient. Even at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory School—the school that gave birth to philosopher John Dewey’s path-breaking experiments in democratic education reform—many parents worry that their children are not being schooled enough for financial success.
In Not for Profit, Nussbaum alerts us to a “silent crisis” in which nations “discard skills” as they “thirst for national profit.” As the arts and humanities are everywhere downsized, there is a serious erosion of the very qualities that are essential to democracy itself. Nussbaum reminds us that great educators and nation-builders understood how the arts and humanities teach children the critical thinking that is necessary for independent action and for intelligent resistance to the power of blind tradition and authority. Students of art and literature also learn to imagine the situations of others, a capacity that is essential for a successful democracy, a necessary cultivation of our “inner eyes.”