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Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington, DC, turned a spotlight on the urgent need to refocus the country on maintaining national excellence in the humanities and social sciences—and how failure to do so will have consequences at home and abroad for the future of American education, security, and competitiveness.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representatives Tom Petri (R-WI) and David Price (D-NC) came together on Capitol Hill this morning to accept a report, prepared at their request, by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Today’s release of the report, titled The Heart of the Matter, launches a national conversation about the importance of the humanities and social sciences to America’s future. Presented by the commission’s cochairs—Richard H. Brodhead, president of Duke University, and John Rowe, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Exelon Corporation—the report looks at the vital role of the humanities and social sciences in preparing and sustaining Americans for the responsibility of productive citizenship in the United States and the world.

The Heart of the Matter focuses on five areas of concern: K–12 education; two- and four-year colleges; research; cultural institutions and lifelong learning; and international security and competitiveness. It also makes recommendations to achieve three goals:

1. Educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to thrive in a twenty-first-century democracy:

  • Invest in the preparation of citizens with a thorough grounding in history, civics, and social studies
  • Increase access to online resources, including teaching materials

2. Foster an innovative, competitive, and strong society:

  • To ensure the vibrancy of humanities and social-science programs at all levels, philanthropists, states, and the federal government should significantly increase funding designated for these purposes
  • Create a Humanities Master Teacher Corps to complement the STEM Master Teacher Corps recently proposed by the White House

3. Equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world:

  • Develop a “Culture Corps” that would match interested adults (retirees, veterans, artists, library and museum personnel) with schools, community centers, and other organizations to transmit humanistic and social-scientific expertise from one generation to the next
  • Expand education in international affairs and transnational studies

“The American character is defined not by ethnicity—Americans come from many countries, races, religions, and cultures—but by a common set of ideals and principles that unite us as a country,” said Senator Alexander. “Those ideals and principles have always been shared and learned through the study of history, philosophy, and literature, but today their study is at risk. This report is a first step to highlighting the importance of, and ensuring a future for, our nation’s humanities education—and our unique American character as well.”

Senator Warner added, “I commend all the members of the commission for their hard work on The Heart of the Matter. Having a strong knowledge of civics, comprehensive reading and writing skills, and an appreciation of history are important for a well-rounded member of the twenty-first-century world. We must use this report as a foundation to continue to engage with the public on how best to keep our humanities and social sciences robust.”

Congressman Petri noted, “Knowledge and promotion of the humanities and social sciences are absolutely important so that citizens have a firm understanding of our nation’s unique history, culture, and heritage. I hope the recommendations in this report will be seriously considered to improve the teaching and understanding of the humanities and social sciences.”

“The humanities and social sciences help us understand where we’ve come from and who we are as a people, and that understanding points us toward the endeavors we must undertake to help every person reach their full potential,” said Representative Price. “Studies in these areas are critically important to a well-rounded education and the future of our country. This report comes at a crucial moment, and I hope it will help raise the profile of the humanities, provide a better understanding of their value, and spur a national conversation about how the humanities and social sciences keep our nation strong and competitive.”

“Today’s leaders in business, government, the military, and diplomacy must be able to analyze, interpret, communicate, and understand other cultures,” said Brodhead, cochair of the commission. “This report will remind Americans that a broad-based and balanced education, integrating the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences, is the best way to equip our citizens to approach the complex problems of our rapidly changing world.”

“The humanities and social sciences comprise many of the things that give life meaning,” said commission cochair Rowe, “both at the highest level and in our day-to-day activities. They need more public and private support and compared to other things a little money goes a long way.”

A short companion film, The Heart of the Matter, from the Emmy Award–winning Ewers Brothers Productions was also released today. Appearing in the film are the producer, screenwriter, and director George Lucas, the actor John Lithgow, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a steadfast supporter of the humanities and arts in this country, provided primary funding for the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. The Carnegie Corporation of New York also provided important funding.

The views expressed in the report are those of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences and not necessarily those of the officers and fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.