The Humanities and Jane’s WalkCHICAGO

Happy 2014!

I’ve been MIA for a while, but not inactive, trying to write the definitive case statement for Jane’s Walk for potential funders.  I wouldn’t claim to have achieved that yet… but I’m closer than I was in November when I last posted.

One of the things that’s been bouncing around in my head is an “Opinionator” blog post published in the New York Times by Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame.  The article, entitled The Real Humanities Crisis, isn’t about the fact that only 8% of undergraduates in 2013 majored in one of the humanities in an American college or university.

Instead, the post is about how

for those with humanistic and artistic life interests, our economic system has almost nothing to offer… We are rightly concerned about the plight of the economic middle class, which finds it harder and harder to find good jobs, as wealth shifts to the upper class.  But we have paid scant attention to the cultural middle class, those with strong humanist interests and abilities who can’t reach the very highest levels, which provide almost all the cultural rewards of meaningful work.

The American Council of Learned Societies defines the humanities as comprising “those fields of knowledge and learning concerned with human thought, experience, and creativity.”

My goal for Jane’s WalkCHICAGO is to engage with the humanities by exploring ways that residents of  individual Chicago communities experience themselves and other neighborhoods, and how the city’s division into neighborhoods promotes creativity and human thought.  Jane’s WalkCHICAGO events are intended to have an educational, social and cultural impact on Chicago residents in teaching about community, and to instill pride in Chicago’s rich neighborhood traditions.

Professor Gutting goes on to say that

We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools.  Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding.  Meeting the needs of this part of the cultural middle class could, in fact, be the key to saving our schools.

In the long term, the Jane’s Walk program goals might respond to this suggestion by expanding to address four different audiences:

  •  WalksMostly intended for adults, from their 20’s to their ‘70’s, to provide the physical and aesthetic experience of a neighborhood’s particular characteristics.  These would be similar to the existing Jane’s Walk format used in Chicago and over 100 other cities in 2013. As in the 2013 Chicago event, there should be a certain percentage of these walks designed to appeal to and interest children.
  •  Lectures or Panel Discussions: Intended for adults, from their 20’s to their ‘80’s, to provide a more nuanced view of a neighborhood-based topic.  These might include a discussion of the fact that Muddy Waters lived at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave and Louis Armstrong lived at 421 E. 44th Street, while Leonard Chess operated the 708 Club, originally a liquor store (that still stands) southwest of the Waters house at 708 E. 47th St, and in 1957 that club was where Buddy Guy made his Chicago debut.  How did this creative concentration and proximity affect the development of American music and culture?
  •  Integration into the curriculum of Chicago Public Schools: CPS has recently unveiled a new curriculum guide to help teachers better incorporate African-American studies into core academic subjects throughout the school year.  This provides an opportunity to integrate Jane’s Walk subjects into the classroom and into CPS’ Service-Learning Initiative.  This is obviously a longer-term project that would require extensive coordination with CPS’ Office of Curriculum & Instruction, but it has the potential to help engage students in excellent classroom instruction tied to subject matter that is accessible outside of the classroom.
  • Integration into the curriculum of local Chicago-area universities: Just as the University Of Chicago Community Service Center (UCSC) recruited undergraduates to serve as Walk Leaders for the 2013 walks in Hyde Park, there are a variety of ways in which the Jane’s Walk subject matter could be integrated into undergraduate and graduate-level coursework.  This is obviously a longer-term project, but the U of C’s Urban Portal and DePaul University’s First-Year Program are just two existing means of providing access to the diversity of experience in Chicago communities to college and university students.

As usual, I’d be delighted to hear your ideas about how to engage with the humanities and rich neighborhood traditions in Chicago’s communities.  Please write!

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