A Letter Concerning the Disgraceful, Outrageous, and Dangerous Remarks of Gov. Bevin & Lt. Gov. Hampton
Allow me to begin this letter by stating that I am biased: I am a history doctoral student and have devoted my life to the learning, writing, and teaching of the subject. I am also a Kentuckian. That aside, I find Lieutenant-Governor Jenean Hampton’s recent comments regarding the study of history and the humanities insulting on many levels. Governor Matthew Bevin is not without fault either. To dissect Hampton’s own words: I agree that education is indeed a privilege, however, the beauty of education is that students have the right to explore topics and learn on their own terms. They have the right to develop and espouse their own ideas. Furthermore, I find her remarks regarding the employability of history and humanities majors stunted. Perhaps if our esteemed Lieutenant-Governor would look beyond the name of the major and engage with the skills history majors are taught, then she would not be so quick to write them off. But perhaps that is asking too much. I would hate to burden our esteemed leaders with the cumbersome task of engaging in analytical thought.
Perhaps our esteemed leaders can have some lackey—quite possibly a humanities major—read this letter for them and reduce it to a one page, monosyllabic brief so that they, in all their educational brilliance, may understand some of the bigger words used. Among my many concerns, let me say that our leader’s comments also do little to improve the nation’s view of our great Commonwealth. So allow me to thank Governor Bevin and Lieutenant-Governor Hampton for further perpetuating the stereotype that Kentuckians do not care about education.
I will avoid the oft repeated quote about the repetition of history and instead head straight for the benefits a history major. In studying history you learn more than just the details of change over time. Furthermore, students of history and the humanities learn to critically analyze material and express observations about it through discussion and the written word. In short, it teaches you to process information and produce informed opinions. Assets like critical thinking and communication are the lynch-pins of a humanities education. The business world is beginning to realize that the legions of business majors they have employed are—gasp—unable to do these fundamental tasks. Many of the students we send into the workforce are ill-prepared to perform these basic tasks: reading, thinking, and expressing their opinion in a coherent way.
But what about jobs? How do history majors contribute? You may take this question up with the three members of the Supreme Court who majored in history, including Chief Justice John Roberts. Furthermore, the remaining justices all earned undergraduate degrees in the Humanities and Social Sciences. To those of you who think that the business world is the only one that matters, allow me to provide the following list of notable business-peoples who all majored in history: Chris Hughes (co-founder of Facebook), Samuel Palmisano (CEO of the IBM corporation), Carly Fiorina (president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard), Howard Stringer (chairman and CEO of Sony), Richard B. Fisher (chairman of Morgan Stanley), and Lee Iacocca (CEO of Chrysler). So, as you can see, history majors do indeed achieve in the ‘real world.’ Especially when you consider the number of U.S. Presidents (Republican and Democrat alike) who studied history prior to taking the oath of office.
When states and politicians begin to devalue certain academic disciplines they are bastardizing the very concept of education. If students are strong-armed into choosing certain majors then you have stunted their individual and intellectual freedom. Yes, society needs doctors, engineers, and businessmen. More importantly, society needs thinking citizens. History and similar humanities majors teach a set of skills as tangible and valuable as any other. In January Governor Bevin noted that students who study French Literature would not be subsidized like those who study engineering. While it is quite possible that the words ‘French’ and ‘Literature’ intimidate our esteemed governor, I think Bevin should reflect on his own education. Bevin graduated with a BA in East Asian Studies from Washington & Lee University. Funny how Bevin had no issue getting a job with an area studies degree. Furthermore, Bevin obtained this degree while on a partial ROTC scholarship. In short, taxpayers helped Bevin study East Asia. No one told Bevin that he had to study x, y, or z topics. When taxpayers contribute to the education of students, they must exercise trust that whichever student uses those funds, they will do so in such a way as to contribute to society. No specific major determines how much or how positively any individual will influence society.
It takes all types.
My parting words to Governor Bevin and Lieutenant-Governor Hampton are these: there have always been historians and there will always be historians. We will be here long after your terms have ended. History is the narrative fabric of human existence throughout time. To deny history is to, by extension, deny humanity. So if history does not matter then they do not either. Bevin and Hampton do not exist without history. Without history they do not hold governmental office. In short, there is a history to everything. And maybe one day a historian will decide to write a history involving Bevin and Hampton, who, long dead and gone, will have trusted their legacies to the very people they once condemned. But if Bevin and Hampton have their way, society will be reduced to a legion of drooling mouth-breathers who will have no clue as to how or who made them this way.