The Importance of the Humanities

humanitiesI recently read an article on “Worst College Majors for Your Career” by Caitlin Dewey. The author used data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and 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