The University of Illinois at Chicago campus. In an editorial last week, the Sun-Times argued that a federal stimulus for higher education should be tied, in part, to shoring up college humanities. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
We need another Works Project Administration to support more theater, public art, poetry, historic preservation and library collections. And we can do the WPA one better. I was glad to read the Sun-Times editorial “To revive the humanities, think New Deal,” which called for investment in the humanities as an essential antidote to our country’s divisions of race, culture, and politics — and which hearkened to the Work Progress Administration.
The WPA included investments in the humanities — in theater, public art, poetry, historic preservation and library collections. Many WPA projects, including hundreds in Illinois, were designed to take the humanities outside of classrooms and off college campuses into the public sphere for anyone to enjoy for free.
However, the WPA also was rife with sexism, racism and classism. Contributions by women and people of color came about through efforts of determined individuals who fought against traditional systems to ensure the inclusion of diverse voices and experiences.
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As powerful as the New Deal was, we can do better with an agenda that invests in the infrastructure of change through the humanities.
1) Change-making policies are insufficient and less effective without the humanities at the table to ensure approaches that include empathy and diverse voices, and that center the experiences of those most impacted.
2) Infrastructure projects have historically been applied in ways that amplify segregation, disenfranchise vulnerable populations, and upend culturally and historically relevant sites. The humanities provide context. We need to invest in memory, meaning and memorials if we are to fully capitalize on infrastructure in ways that create social, as well as physical, resilience.
3) The humanities are as crucial to the nation’s success as science and technology. They are where the narrative of the American dream can be, and is being, rewritten. We need to galvanize the creative sector — the thousands of individuals and nonprofit cultural organizations that host and employ them — with resources. If we are to reimagine the social contract foundational to our identity as a country in a way that is inclusive, just and socially relevant for current and future generations, we need humanists to light the way.
Illinois is among the top 10 most diverse states. There is tremendous opportunity to invest in infrastructure here in tandem with a Biden administration, while also fostering cultural understanding, respect, equality and justice. If we can lead the way here, there’s a good chance we can help the rest of the country follow.
Gabrielle Lyon, executive director, Illinois Humanities
Safe enough only for South Side?
In General Iron’s new scrap metal plant is so safe, why can’t it stay in Lincoln Park?
Anne Swaine, Elmhurst
State Legislature can’t be trusted
Regarding your Nov. 25 editorial on state finances: Although it would not have affected me, I voted “no” on the Fair Tax Amendment because, based on the legislature’s history, I did not trust our state senators and representatives to spend any additional money wisely. While they want to raise taxes, they have made almost no effort to cut expenditures. Nor have they done anything about an amendment to fix the pension systems or to reduce the number of units of government or much else to save money.
In other words, as we’ve seen with past tax increases, giving the state more money will not fix our problems — not unless the state changes the way it does business.
Mario Caruso, Lincoln Square
Declare bankruptcy, Illinois
I’m just a retired construction engineer living in Southern Illinois who voted against the Fair Tax. I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of the state’s budget.
If the Fair Tax Amendment had been written to make clear that a graduated tax would apply only to incomes of more than $400,000 and had it included exceptions for the owners of some small businesses, I might have voted for it.
But voters do not trust Illinois legislators. And then, when the governor essentially blackmailed voters by threatening to raise taxes on everyone if the amendment was not approved, that sealed the results — the amendment would not pass.
If instead of donating $51 million of his own money to the Fair Tax campaign, the governor had given that money to the state, that also might have led me to vote for the amendment.
The Fair Tax Amendment was always nonsense. The tax structure we now have is truly fair — everyone pays at the same rate. Progressive tax rates punish people who work hard and save their money.
The only solution to the state’s budget problems is for the state to declare bankruptcy.
George Walker, Metropolis
Betsy DeVos — another misfit
Kudos to S.E. Cupp for her column about misfits in the Trump administration. But as a retired public school teacher, I feel the need to point out a glaring omission — Betsy DeVos. Though she is the secretary of education, DeVos has never been been involved with public education, either as a student or parent.
I understand the difficulty of making a complete list of unqualified Trump position holders, but DeVos belongs on any short list.
Kathleen Johnson, Lemont
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