The humanities are in danger, and we need to revive them

By Emma Campbell

Elm Staff Writer

College students majoring in the humanities have grown accustomed to hearing the same questions posed by those who believe STEM career paths are the only lucrative ones. “What are you planning on doing with that?” is a popular one, as is the patronizing “Oh, so do you want to teach?”

These queries not only serve to frustrate humanities majors; they can also be used as a measuring stick for the stubborn misconceptions surrounding topics like literature, art, religion, philosophy, and the ancient and modern languages.

The truth is, we need the humanities. And it is high time people understood that.

Recent years have seen a sizeable decrease of college students majoring in the humanities. Data collected from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System shows that the reason college students are shying away from declaring humanities majors is because they fear a STEM-favoring job market.

“Students aren’t fleeing degrees with poor job prospects,” Benjamin Schmidt, Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University, said in an article published by the Association of American Colleges & Universities. “They’re fleeing humanities and related fields specifically because they think they have poor job prospects.”

Since 2008, the numbers reported by the Department of Education have shown a frightening decrease of college students enrolled in humanities courses. History has dropped about 45% from its high in 2007, while the number of English majors nation wide has plummeted by nearly half since the 1990s.

This trend can be seen across almost every humanities field, revealing a disturbing stigma held by college students — and their parents — relating to non-STEM trajectories.

Someone is telling these students that humanities degrees equates to unemployment. That person could not be more incorrect.

The humanities are too essential, too all-encompassing, too human to be cast aside in favor of majors designed around test tubes, wires, and lab coats. Before she won her Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, Toni Morrison earned a bachelor’s degree in English. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright graduated Wellesley College with a degree in political science. Oprah Winfrey majored in broadcast journalism. That means without humanities majors, America may have never experienced the friendship between Gayle King and Lady O.

A book written by George Anders and published in 2017 titled “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education” said: “Curiosity, creativity, and empathy aren’t unruly traits that must be reined in to ensure success. Just the opposite. The human touch has never been more essential in the workplace than it is today. You don’t have to mask your true identity to get paid for your strengths. You don’t need to apologize for the supposedly impractical classes you took in college or the so-called soft skills you have acquired. The job market is quietly creating thousands of openings a week for people who can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future.”

The myth that humanities degrees do not get hired is as dangerous as it is misguided. We need careers in the humanities just as much as we need doctors and engineers. The humanities help us understand the world through areas like culture, language, and history. They teach us to ask questions and to think creatively. They encourage social justice and equality, therefore fostering empathy in a world that is woefully lacking.

A future without the humanities is one where people no longer care about what it means to be human.

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