Well-being and Humanities Education in Singapore , pp. 9 of 11

The many issues facing societies (outlined earlier, as determinants of well-being) are not simply matters that can be addressed by scientific, technological, or technocratic solutions. They are also humanitarian issues and issues of social justice. They require asking the right questions, public deliberation, critical reasoning, and the exercise of judgment to determine the best courses of action that are informed, reasonable, just, and humane. Humanities educators, therefore, have the important responsibility of teaching all students how to develop sound arguments based on evidence, weigh different arguments, and wrestle with issues of justice, ethics, and power. They can draw on the content and tools of the Humanities to shape students’ understandings of issues that affect well-being and to help them determine necessary courses of action. The Humanities provide the necessary intellectual virtues and humane values central to “hopeful, watchful caretaking [forms of] citizenship, neighborliness, stewardship” that enable people to live together and care for each other (Miller, 2010, p. xix). This requires helping students develop an empathetic understanding of others and the ways different groups of people have been impacted by particular events, issues or policies.

Humanities education, then, is unique in its potential to focus on issues and capacities central to individual well-being as well as the conditions that determine well-being. It is uniquely positioned in school curriculum to help students understand the inner life of the mind, human imagination, and different perspectives people may have as well as the historical, geographic, cultural, social, political, and economic circumstances that have shaped the human condition and their own lives.


Humanities education can help young people better understand the “humanness” of others who are different from themselves, due to national, cultural, religious, ethnic or class differences (Nussbaum, 2010). To a large extent, considering others’ humanness means considering their well-being and the ways in which social and material conditions affect human lives. It means having the imagination and empathy to consider others’ plight.  Rather than merely preparing students for jobs or careers, the study of history, geography, literature, and the arts can provide powerful opportunities for students to develop insight into their own lives and the lives of others that will enable them to create lives worth living, full of meaning and purpose. It can also help students be more conscious that the ways they live their lives also affects others. Humanities education can help students overcome narrow views that may only focus on their personal well-being to more fully consider societal well-being and the well-being of all of humanity.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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