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U.S. in danger of losing humanities, social sciences edge: panel

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is in danger of losing its advantage in the humanities and social sciences, just as China and other rivals move toward the U.S. model of a broad education in the liberal arts, a federal panel warned in a report to be released on Wednesday.

The congressionally mandated Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences said the embattled liberal arts sector needed support similar to the campaign to boost study of the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM has the public support of President Barack Obama.

Bolstering the humanities and social sciences would strengthen civic ideals and U.S. economic competitiveness in a globalizing world, the panel said.

"At the very moment when China and some European nations are seeking to replicate our model of broad education in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences ... we are instead narrowing our focus and abandoning our sense of what education has been and should continue to be - our sense of what makes America great," the panel said.

The report proposed a 12-point program to shore up areas of learning that have lost their luster amid a slow economic recovery and rising college costs.

International affairs and intercultural skills, especially foreign languages, should be built in to school courses to reflect the United States' global reach and interconnectedness of ordinary Americans with the world, it said.

Civics courses are being cut, and the Department of Education said that only 45 percent of high school students in 2010 had at least a basic understanding of U.S. history.

The share of federal research money for the humanities, which include history, civics, philosophy and religion, has fallen for years and was lower in 2011 than in 2005.

To reverse course, the commission said in part, the United States must educate Americans in skills such as reading, writing and critical analysis.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences formed the panel in 2010 at the request of Congress. The chairmen were Richard Brodhead, the president of Duke University, and John Rowe, the former chairman and chief executive of Exelon Corp.

Members included jurists, academics and business executives, as well as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, film director George Lucas and Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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