The social, cognitive effects of a dominant use of digital technology have been studied for decades. I am thinking of Eri Erikson’s admonition toward the end of his life when he studied the drastic psychological, social (humanist) effects of reduced arduous effort in the shaping of one’s character or identity. He saw things synoptically in that labor itself served a discrete good in the shape of character.
Before he died last year at the age of 75, Earl Shorris wrote a best seller titled “The Art of Freedom: Teaching the Humanities to the Poor”. What did he discover? He discovered that being poor was really about a deficit of culture, not jobs or money.
While teaching in New York’s Bedford Hills maximum security prison throughout the 1970’s he came upon a female inmate whom he was interviewing. The topic was poverty. Upon asking her why she thought the poor were poor, she said: “EARL, THE POOR ARE POOR BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE THE LIFE OF DOWN-DOWN.” Upon pressing her to explain more, she said, “LOOK EARL, YOU GOTTA TEACH THE LIFE OF DOWN-TOWN. YOU GOTTA START WITH THE CHILDREN EARL. YOU GOTTA TAKE THEM TO PLAYS MUSEUMS, CONCERTS, LECTURES.”
Earl knew what she meant: the humanities. The study of the humanities is about perfecting, growing the shape of human freedom.
From this, Dr. Earl Shorris created ‘The Clemente Course’ which featured learning the classics of western civilization, beginning with philosophy, theatre, dramatic poetry, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides (pronounced Thu-cid-did-ease) and Sophocles (Soft-a-clease).
“The Art of Freedom: Teaching the Humanities to the Poor” was published posthumously for Shorris would die before publication.
Dr. Shorris possessed no patience for mediocrity, for him the humanities is an intrinsically optimistic endeavor, a foundation for getting along in a world, for thinking, for reflection on the most pressing concerns.
Not a bad place to start!