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The rehumanization of America

Twenty-one centuries ago Terence, a Roman dramatist, born a slave, spoke these significant words. Today the members of the Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities are proclaiming that unless the United States dramatically elevates the quality of education on the secondary and elementary levels by including the study of the humanities, within the next ten years our nation will no longer be a civilized one.

The commission believes that the broadening liberal arts should once again be diligently pursued in schools, that vocationalism (the previously much-touted specific preparation for a career that does little to broaden a student's horizons or to cultivate an interest in mankind) is hazardous and should be abandoned.

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The commission's contention is given hardy substantiation by much that confronts us daily: by me-first motorists who recklessly cut in and out of parking spaces and in front of defensive drivers; by rude salespersons who treat customers like intruders disturbing their privacy; by the aggressive activities of so many undisciplined children -- encounters which demean all of us as they rob our nation of its dignity.

This lack of grace in our lives has caused many to reflect nostalgically upon Victorian and turn-of-the-century lifestyles, when "the niceties" were observed; upon years of the Great Depression when the lack of material things was made more bearable by sharing and by the good-fellowship of common courtesies.

A national commitment to politeness achieved by individual dedication to the practice of common courtesies might make "thank-yous" and "pleases" contagious. Our country might become infected with a case of "caring." Caring that would concern itself with the proper molding of the young; with long overdue recognition of the polite "good guy" in corporations now shunned for aggressive, ill-mannered, and crudely demanding supervisors; and with polite deference to older people who would appreciate even a door being held open for them.

The improvement of the quality of our lives through concentration on the amenities would be a welcome initial step toward the Rockefeller commission's goal and make all of us, like Terence, aware that nothing that concerns mankind is alien to us.

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