Reexamining the Humanities’ Role in Higher Education

As higher education increasingly seeks to prepare students in more specific ways for the workforce, the humanities have come under fire for lacking the immediate practicality of other disciplines. But, according to Professor LaRose Parris (LaGuardia Community College), the humanities were never meant to be a solely practical course of study. Instead, she writes, they encourage students to refine their critical thinking, which in turn helps them develop a more “profound understanding of the human experience.”

In a recent article published in The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Parris proposes a transdisciplinary approach to humanities — what she calls creolization. She borrows that term from Jane Anna Gordon’s book Creolizing Political Theory: Reading Rousseau through Fanon, which emphasizes how fields often overlap in their ideologies.

The idea of creolization pivots on adaptation, and Parris sees the benefit of applying a similar structure to the humanities. To aid her point, she turns to work from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Frantz Fanon, and more, showing how they saw the possibilities that existed between studies rather than in niched and stand-alone fields. The resulting research from such an approach would, ideally, challenge notions of practicality by emphasizing complexity.

Complexity meets the challenges of a world grown more complicated. Parris points to the rise of white nationalist movements generally and the Charlottesville, Virginia, incident specifically, and how work being done in the humanities elucidates both. “[W]e are better able to understand the specificities of our existence when we fully grasp the import of foundational historical, philosophical, and socio-political developments that shape our attitudes and cultures,” she writes.

Parris told SUM, “My hope is that readers will be moved to reconceptualize humanities curricula, so that the human diversity at the heart of the history of ideas may be revealed.”

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“Creolizing the academy: Embracing transdisciplinarity to revive the humanities and promote critical pedagogy”

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LaRose Parris (Associate Professor, English) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
LaGuardia Community College

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