In Defense of the National Endowment for the Humanities

I joyfully taught Spanish and French for 35 years in Illinois public schools. During that time I constantly sought out opportunities for professional development. I applied for grants, scholarships and programs from my school districts, the state of Illinois, private foundations, the US federal government as well as the governments of France and Spain.  In addition, I spent my own money improving my skills, knowledge and pedagogy.

But there was no way I could have been the teacher I was using my own salary. I was extremely fortunate to receive awards over 14 times in my career, the first in 1984 to the last in 2005, and three of them were from NEH. I have listed them below.

  • National Endowment for the Humanities seminar participant, “Literature of Indo-Buddhism,” University of Chicago -1994
  • National Endowment for the Humanities seminar participant “Goethe and Rousseau,” University of Chicago - 1992
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Grant for Independent study on French women in art and literature - 1989

I mention this because of the proposed federal budget which would eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. vertcolorI am dismayed about this proposal and would like to add my voice and personal experience in defense of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I am basing my defense not based on the cost, "which is less than the cost of a stamp per American per year", a fact I learned from NEH's website. Nor am I defending it because of quilts, which are obviously near and dear to my heart. You can read some of the ways NEH has supported quilts and quilting by doing a simple google search, which I did here.

I am writing in defense of the National Endowment for the Humanities because of what it did for me as a public school teacher. I don't think I would have been able to maintain my motivation, curiosity and enthusiasm for teaching without the support of NEH. Many organizations question, belittle or require additional testing from teachers.

NEH celebrated teachers and their brains, their intellect. They took the position that students learned best from teachers who were intellectually alive themselves, that the fire they could light in teachers' brains would spread to their students. To do this, they offered seminars and studies which provided a modest stipend so teachers could spend the summer reading, learning and growing instead of having to work a second job.


The summer I spent studying French women in literature and impressionist art resulted in my doing research at the Art Institute of Chicago. My head exploded with the gorgeous collection that dovetailed with my reading and book collection. The unit I then taught at my high school has been imitated by every student who went on to become a French teacher and is still being taught today.

How's that for bang for your buck?

The summers I spent studying with other humanities teachers at the University of Chicago were the most 20170316_212830intellectually stimulating experiences I had ever had. I still have the books and remember the rush of those discussions. It was like my head had been opened, all the cobwebs had been vacuumed out and I went back to school with renewed vigor, creativity and a sense of all that was possible to communicate to my students.

I felt valued, alive and invigorated. I wanted my students to experience the same sort of awakening that I had. I also spread the word to colleagues, gave presentations at conventions and pursued other chances for study and growth.

Teachers do a critical job that needs more support than bake sales and apples. Students who learn from a teacher who is a wildly enthused, life long learner will catch that desire themselves. Happy, fulfilled teachers with critical thinking students is the way we all want education to be.

Heck, I'd even give two stamps worth for that to continue.

Sew happy that I had my creativity nurtured then  and that it continues to this day.

Sew happy!

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I have written before about education. You can peruse them by clicking here.

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    Kathy Mathews

    My passions are quilting and sewing. Add to that French, Spanish, books, swimming, travels, new restaurants, yoga and chocolate and you have me. All of these are best shared with family and friends. Except for chocolate, don't touch my chocolate. You can email me at

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