The Importance of the Humanities

humanitiesI recently read an article on Kiplinger.com: “Worst College Majors for Your Career” by Caitlin Dewey. The author used data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and Payscale.com to develop a list of the top ten worst college majors based on those majors whose graduates face a combination of low compensation and high unemployment. Here are the top ten worst majors they listed:

  1. Anthropology
  2. Fine Arts
  3. Film and Photography
  4. Philosophy and Religious Studies
  5. Graphic Design
  6. Studio Arts
  7. Liberal Arts
  8. Drama and Theater Arts
  9. Sociology
  10. English

My gut reaction to this was shock. If our society values these disciplines so little, what kind of future awaits us? It looks pretty bleak to me—a society without humanity, truth or beauty.

But it’s not just employment futures discouraging students from studying the humanities. Elementary and secondary schools across the country have slashed their budgets by cutting arts and music programs. Some estimates indicate that more than 95% of school children attend a school where funding for arts and/or music have been reduced, and some schools in low-income areas have completely eliminated arts and music programs.

As state budgets become tighter and tighter, arts and music programs tend to be the first to suffer. They are perceived as being less important than reading, writing, arithmetic and science, but I believe that is short-sighted thinking.

The humanities, art and music included, are academic disciplines that study the human condition. We enjoy a society today that is more tolerant of other cultures and a variety of value systems than it was a century ago. We owe that greater tolerance to those academicians in sociology and the liberal arts who strove diligently in the 20th Century to increase awareness.

Also, unlike the natural sciences and their empirical methodologies, the humanities utilize methods that are analytical and critical. When we decrease student exposures to the humanities, we lessen the opportunities they have to develop their critical thinking skills. Humanities students are some of the best performers in verbal and quantitative reasoning tests. Moreover, employers consistently report that they are specifically seeking the kind of critical and creative thinking skills that a degree in philosophy or English could develop. Do we really believe these skills are less important?

As we plod forward and continue to trim the arts out of elementary and secondary school curricula, are we trading away a future rich with enlightened adults capable of thinking critically and creatively solving problems?

love humanities

Price Tag Trickery–Reading Is Fundamental

When I was out on my own for the first time as a young adult, grocery shopping was simple for two reasons:

  1. I couldn’t afford much.
  2. Larger package sizes were always the best value.

Those days are long gone, and thankfully I can afford more than rice and potatoes now, but finding the best value has gotten much more complicated. The least expensive product on the shelf isn’t necessarily the largest generic item anymore.

It used to be that generic prices were so low in comparison to the name brands that even a manufacturer’s coupon couldn’t bring the name brand price down lower than the generic. Not so anymore, folks. Take those name brand coupons along just in case, and always compare the generics prices with the name brand prices. These days, a name brand product on sale might even be less expensive than the generic, even without a coupon.

canola1canola2Another thing we always used to count on was that larger package sizes were always cheaper. It’s not unusual now to find smaller sizes on sale for a price even lower than the larger product. The canola oil on the left is 48 ounces; the bottle on the right is 32 ounces. Go and figure. Why would anyone want to pay more for 33% less? But if you don’t take the time to read the shelf tags, that could be what happens to you.

Finally, beware of your recipes. If they are like mine, they are geared to common packaging sizes. One of my recipes recently called for a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce1Tomato Sauce2,

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While it may be environmentally more friendly to purchase one 15-ounce can for 85 cents, it’ll be easier on your wallet to buy two 8-ounce cans if you can get them for 40 cents each.

Now these examples don’t represent big savings, together they’re a savings of just 23 cents, but if you can save this much every week you’ll have saved nearly $12 in a year’s time. That’s a matinee movie with snacks! And who doesn’t like a free movie?

Grammar Gaffs–A Guest Post by Susan Szydlowski-Gentry

guestbloggerMany people use the terms, would of, could of and should of, which have been derived from the contractions, would’ve, could’ve and should’ve. What they should be writing is, would have, could have and should have.

Another misuse is the phrase, “I could care less.” How much less could you care of that certain situation? Personally, I couldn’t care less.

And finally, can’t is the contraction for the words can and not, which, by the way, should never be two words when side by side. I cannot understand why this is so difficult to understand.

Okay, I’m done venting now.

 

Starting Your Creative Juices–The First Step Of The Writing Process

Picking a Topic

Plan ItSometimes when faced with a writing task, your topic is assigned by someone else. More often, though, you will either have to choose from a selection of themes or come up with an idea all your own. So how do you go about picking a topic? You can gather ideas from just about anywhere. Talk to your friends and family. Look through websites, newspapers, and magazines. The two most important things to keep in mind are:

First, choose a topic that interests you. If you aren’t interested, how can you expect your audience to be interested?

Second, be realistic. Don’t make your topic too broad or too narrow. If your theme is too broad, you won’t be able to do it justice. If it is too narrow, you will be tempted to use filler to beef up your work. Filler is never fun to read.

Identifying the Audience

If you want to get your ideas across, you have to figure out who your audience is. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider what your reader already knows and what they need to know. Try to anticipate any questions they might have.

Brainstorming

Once you have determined your topic and audience, it’s time to start fleshing out ideas. There are many different ways to brainstorm. It doesn’t matter what approach you take, pick a method that works for you. Make a list of ideas and elements you wish to utilize. Create an idea map by jotting your ideas on a large writing surface. Or try some freewriting. Set your timer for five minutes and write. It doesn’t matter what you write or how you spell, so turn off  your inner editor. If you use a computer for freewriting, consider turning off your monitor. Just write.

Researching

Whether you are writing a scholarly paper for your environmental science class or a short story for creative writing, research is an essential preliminary step to your project.

For research papers, you will want to identify credible sources, and be able to summarize them by putting their arguments in your own words. Categorizing or grouping your sources may be assistive later on as you organize the flow of your essay. Don’t stop with summarizing, though. In order to thoroughly address a topic for an academic theme, you must challenge and rebut your sources. Have they overlooked a part of the topic? Are there flaws to their argument? Your ability to critically evaluate the credibility of the sources you use will demonstrate to your instructor that you have a thorough understanding of your topic.

Even creative writing requires research. Let’s say you want to write a short story about two schoolgirls who are penpals. Your story is set in the year 1917. One of your main characters lives in a small town in the midwestern region of the U.S. The other lives in central France. You are going to need to do some geographical research in order to add detail to your story. You will also need to be aware of anything that might impact these two girls and their long-distance friendship. World War I would have probably affected both these girls in very different ways. Culture, cuisine, pastimes, and fashion, among others, are areas you might wish to familiarize yourself with in order to be able to give depth to your characters and settings.

Outlining Your Project

Lastly, you need to create an outline of what you want to write. An outline is a somewhat graphic method of organizing your writing project. For research papers, an outline will help make sure that your finished project supports your thesis. It will also establish the order and relationship of your main points. An outline of your creative writing project will help you to ensure that you fully develop your characters and that your plotline carries smoothly throughout the story.

Stay Tuned

Write OnNow that you’ve got your creative juices flowing, get out there and start gathering ideas for your next writing project. And be sure to check back here for the next segment of this blog series about the writing process.

Clean Up Your Writing In A Single SWEEP

SweepIn preparing to help a young friend with some looming writing tasks, I decided to refresh my memory on the process of writing itself.

I was surprised to see that during the (mumble unintelligibly) years since high school, the key words of the process haven’t been changed to create an easily remembered acronym. Ah well, you know what they say, if you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!

S         Start the creative juices flowing.

    • Pick a topic.
    • Who will your audience be?
    • Brainstorm ideas.
    • Perform any necessary research.
    • Create a rough outline to help your ideas flow smoothly.

 W        Write.

    • Turn your outline into sentences and paragraphs in your own words.
    • Read what you wrote. Does it say what you intended?
    • Show it to others and ask for feedback.

 E         Evaluate your writing to make it better.

    • Reread what you wrote.
    • Consider the feedback you got from others.
    • Rearrange words, sentences or paragraphs so that ideas flow smoothly.
    • Take out any parts that don’t serve a purpose to your ideas.
    • Add more content where it is needed to improve clarity.
    • Replace any overused words.
    • Read what you wrote aloud. Does it sound right?

 E         Edit for grammar, spelling and style.

    • Be sure all sentences are complete.
    • Correct any spelling or grammar mistakes. (Computer spell/grammar checkers are great tools. Use them!)
    • Run it past another set of eyes. It’s easy to read past your own mistakes.

 P         Put it out there for others.

    • Post your writing on an online blog, forum or social media site.
    • Create a book of your own.
    • Send a copy to a friend or relative.
    • Collaborate with an artistic friend to illustrate your creation or put it to music.

Write OnKeep this process in mind every time you face a writing task, no matter how small. By the time this process becomes a habit, you will have turned into an effective writer.

Stay tuned, budding writers. I’ll be digging deeper in future posts.

What Is Process, And Why Is It A Big Deal?

Merriam-Webster defines process as a series of actions or operations leading to an end. Whether we are aware of it or not, process is there for us every day helping us to be successful in each task we undertake.

To get a better feel for how widespread processes are in our lives I googled the phrase “Why is process necessary?” WOW! There were more than a dozen different areas Processrepresented in just the first few pages of search returns, ranging from things as complex as environmental assessment and medical research to things as seemingly simple as haircuts.

If you stop and think about it, we even use process when getting dressed in the morning. Let’s face it, you don’t ever put your slacks on before your underpants, right? It’s a process, you know!

But is process necessary? We could bumble our way through life by trial and error. Eventually we’d get our underpants on before our slacks. But wait! Isn’t trial an error a process in itself? And to what does trial and error lead? It leads to the process of elimination whereby we eliminate the impractical in favor of the more practical. ANOTHER PROCESS!!

Processes are part of our natural existence. They are sets of unifying principles operating in all systems. Most importantly, processes are tools at our disposal. They make life simpler.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will explain why I was thinking about process in the first place!