For this week’s post, I will diverge slightly from my usual topics of required reading and public schooling vs. private schooling vs. homeschooling to discuss the recent plight of the humanities and their continued importance for a college education.
First of all, the humanities are defined as academic disciplines focused on humans and human culture. They include languages, linguistics, literature, the arts, philosophy, religion, music, law, history, and archaeology. For many years, it used to be that the humanities were some of the most consistently popular areas of study in American colleges and universities. In recent years, however, the humanities have been on a steady decline in American colleges and universities. There are multiple reasons for this decline, but most of them fall under the general reason that the humanities are being de-emphasized in order to place more focus on the STEM fields; that is, the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The reason for colleges and universities emphasizing the STEM fields over the humanities is that overall, for a number of reasons, the STEM fields are regarded as more important, serious lines of study than the humanities. There is much more obvious practical, “real-world” application for the STEM fields. We use math and science frequently to solve problems in our daily lives a good deal more than we use literature or music. Also, the job market for STEM fields is much more lucrative and high-paying than that for the humanities. An engineer or a scientist certainly makes a good deal more money every year than your average struggling writer or “starving artist.” Because of this perceived superiority of the STEM fields, STEM programs in colleges and universities receive much more funding from the federal government than programs in the humanities do. As a result of this, colleges and universities often downsize their humanities departments in favor of increased funding and resources for their STEM departments, in order to receive more government funding. This has only increased with the recent economic recession, which has made frugality and careful spending all the more important. As a result of all this, the number of college and university students in America who choose humanities majors has decreased greatly in favor of STEM majors. Statistically, 7 percent of American college and university students are in humanities majors currently, compared to 14 percent in 1970.
The question you may well be asking right now is, why does this all matter? If STEM fields are more practical and useful and create more jobs, do we even need the humanities? The answer to this is that there are in fact many reasons why the humanities are essential to a college education. In fact, they can even serve practical purposes and have economic benefits.
The humanities teach important thinking and reasoning skills, including creative thinking, critical thinking, reasoning, good question asking, logic, skeptical weighing of evidence, and insight. The humanities also teach about the world we live in and about our own culture as well as all the other cultures of the world, and their values and contributions to the world. Foreign languages are a part of the humanities, and they provide the most crucial tool to communicating with people of other cultures and gaining appreciation for the differences between people. Philosophy and ethics are part of the humanities, and they keep us asking the important questions that keep us from crossing moral lines in politics, science, and life in general. Law and politics are connected to the humanities, and these are crucial to changing laws and the world. The humanities help to sustain democracy by teaching us to be informed citizens. The knowledge of other civilizations the humanities give us allow us to better deal and trade with other countries, and this combined with the skills in logic and critical reasoning offered by the humanities can help us to make more intelligent and thoughtful economic decisions.
The humanities have seen a gradual but constant decline in American colleges and universities in recent years. This is because they are not seen as being as worthy of attention as STEM fields; that is, science, technology, engineering, and math fields, because they are not as practical and do not offer as many job opportunities. However, the humanities have other tremendously valuable benefits that put them at the same value as STEM fields. Specifically, the humanities help us to understand human cultures, ethics, and critical thinking, among other crucial disciplines. To conclude, the humanities are just as important to a well-rounded education as the STEM fields and should be treated as such.