Humanities asks the big questions

The Integrated Humanities Program (IHP), a residential TAP (Teacher Advisory Program) that consists of three full-year classes, marked its 30th anniversary on Oct. 3. Alumni, current IHP students, and their parents attended a brief reception followed by a public conversation on the continuing relevance of the humanities. The event served dual functions. It was part festive gathering for the IHP-affiliated audience complete with refreshments, part academic lecture in honor of the program’s 30 years. The three core faculty members tackled the wide-reaching topic in Living and Learning, home of the IHP. Professor Patrick Hutton teaches history, Professor Tom Simone teaches English and Professor Richard Sugarmans class focuses on religion, philosophy and Jewish studies. Professor Simone stressed that his teaching style places emphasis on the present, for “if we don’t have a present, we don’t have a past or a future” he said. “It is important to get beyond passive reception, the world as entertainment, as 575 cable news channels,” he said.”No matter how great Homer might be, no matter how great Sappho might be, or Virginia Woolf, Newton or Einstein … we are all very valuable and essential people in the world. We are each given a life, and that needs to be valued, cherished and lived with care,” Simone said.The IHP asks “the big questions: the human predicament, the good society, the questions that have preoccupied humankind since the beginning,” Hutton said.Sugarman applied the concepts of IHP to academia, noting that, “If you go to a conference, people never talk about what they don’t know. They talk about what they’re experts on. That’s what they’re being paid for … You don’t want an expert on ignorance.””But if you think about all of the great thinkers of the contemporary world… the person they’re most often in conflict with is themselves,” he said.The intellectual discussion between the three professors was punctuated with memories of the IHP since the 1970s, how it has both evolved and remained the same. Professor Hutton recalled how the women’s movement changed his course, shifting the focus to the gender politics and women in antiquity, subjects that hadn’t garnered much interest in the beginning of the program.”Our approach is not so much an objective evaluation of information, but rather a more subjective process of intellectual growth,” he said.He also remembered a proposition that the IHP should expand beyond its roughly 30 students to teach as many as 500.”I said no [to expansion] so the students can keep a kind of coherence,” Hutton said.Indeed, personal attention is a cornerstone of the IHP. “You cannot say, why don’t you plug so-and-so into that spot, or why don’t you put this student into that place? We look for students especially who have goodwill towards one another,” Sugarman said.The three professors are absolutely convinced of the benefits of knowledge of the humanities for their own sake, and not “a mere relish to the central meal of education,” as Sugarman put it.”I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I wish that President Bush had been in the IHP. I wish he’d read the Iliad and found out what happens in war,” Simone said.”Yes, but do you think he would have gotten in?” Hutton replied.