Colleges Defend the Humanities Despite High Costs, Dim Job Prospects

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by jeffisjeff, Mar 7, 2013.

  1. jeffisjeff

    jeffisjeff Well-Known Member

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    We've discussed this general concept many times before, but I saw this statistic (only 8% of students major in the humanities) and was rather surprised. Is it really that small? I can only imagine that it will keep decreasing.

    http://nation.time.com/2013/03/07/w...ries (TIME: Top Stories)&utm_content=My Yahoo

    At my own university, some of the first programs to be cut during the budget crisis a few years ago were the humanities programs.
  2. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    The humanities should be defended. University education is not supposed to be trade school. Trade school is trade school.
  3. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    Even if the humanities classes are not relevant to a student's major, they are important. 1, they make for a more well rounded education. 2, (and more important) they teach a different, often more creative, way of thinking. Training the mind to look at options creatively can apply to subjects that are not typically considered creative themselves.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2013
  4. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    I can see that, theoretically, humanities classes could teach creative thinking. And maybe at premier private institutions, they do. But at run of the mill schools, I haven't seen much to be impressed by from students with humanities degrees. (I know, a rather rude thing to say but those kids are usually not as creative as they think they are.) I think rigor is lacking from some of those degrees that would truly get the mind working.

    ETA: Also, I am not sure "working together" or "teamwork" is something I ascribe to humanities degrees either.

    If I had a kid, I would encourage her to take up something math or techie oriented where I think he would better learn critical and creative thinking. And then read about literature and history and art on her own time to round his knowledge out.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2013
  5. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    You can't promote college as the key to a middle class lifestyle and charge very high fees for it and expect people to look at college as anything other than trade school.

    Higher education in all forms was originally designed for the elite--people who had wealth and guaranteed position in life. The liberal arts curriculum was supposed to make people leaders, not workers. But it assumed that you already had a place of affluence and influence in society. The idea that the very bright could overcome poverty to become elite is fairly recent; the idea that everyone needs college is even more recent.

    Because they don't do those things in other majors?

    I think the Humanities have value (naturally) and I would hate to see them disappear or (almost as bad) be pushed into other curriculum. But I got my first teaching gig at a university where the English Department was told that it existed solely to serve the general education requirements of the student population (in spite of having a complete English program through Ph.D). Everyone gasped and clutched pearls, but I think that is pretty much where Humanities is and will probably remain for the foreseeable future--a teaching profession, fiercely competitive and marginal.
  6. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    I agree 100%.

    BUT. Playing devil's advocate here ... I wonder if "the humanities" at the university level have become less important as critical thinking has become more widely taught at the high school level? I can't speak for other jurisdictions, but I know that creative and critical thinking processes are imbedded across all the curricula -- including in math and science courses as well as the more obvious humanities and fine arts -- in BC. The level of discourse might not be as sophisticated or the academic standards as rigorous as at the university level, but the scope is broader, and benefits are obvious of getting young people into the critical thinking habit early.

    Not that that's the only reason to defend the humanities, of course. And I agree that universities shouldn't be seen as exclusively job-training institutes. But with the costs of post-secondary creeping higher and higher, few people can afford to attend university as just a horizon-broadening experience. So I certainly can't blame students for wanting to relate their university studies more closely to future job prospects.
  7. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    I would also throw out there that most of the cool creative stuff in the atmosphere stems from techie people, Steve Jobs being the most obvious example. If more humanities majors were doing cool, cutting edge – inspirational – stuff, that could change the zeitgeist.
  8. modern_muslimah

    modern_muslimah Well-Known Member

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    ^This. I majored in a humanities field (Religious Studies) and while I loved the classes, once the classes were done and the degree was in my hand, I had to face the reality of all the debt I was required to pay back. I don't get a pass on it because my degree taught me "critical thinking skills". Yes, the life of the mind is important but so is my credit rating. Plus, if I had to be honest, not every class I took in the humanities really taught critical thinking. Additionally, I agree that non-humanities can also teach those skills.

    I don't think humanities classes or departments should be eliminated. I learned a lot in most of my humanities courses. However, we can't overlook the fact that students getting undergrad degrees in the humanities have the same amount of debt and the same obligation to pay them as students in majoring in STEM fields or business. I don't have any answers. I don't think we should prevent students from majoring in humanities. Some working class students end up going very far in the humanities. Yet, there are clearly a lot of humanities grads who are working at Starbucks and wondering how they're going to pay their loans, rent, and other bills on that salary. There are no easy answers.
  9. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    Steve Jobs was a college dropout and always seemed like more a Humanities major than a techie person to me. The most influential college course he took, after all, was calligraphy, and he pursued a lot of spiritual and aesthetic interests. I would say that it was his interest in Humanities that made his work in technology cool and cutting edge. Bill Gates was a big techie nerd and you don't hear him or his work described as "cool" (except by other techie nerds).
  10. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    Likewise, a lot of the inspiration for cool modern tech came from sci fi film and tv, which was created by a bunch of writers, illustrators, and theater/film guys.
  11. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    That is a good point about Jobs. I forgot that Wozniak was the techie in the relationship. Humanities schools should be leveraging Steve Jobs calligraphy background for all its worth.

    All the techie nerds I know hate Gates. They think Microsoft sucks.

    I will add though that I think humanities *interests and pursuits* are fabulous and add to creative thinking skills - that is different to me then specifially getting a humanities education, however.
  12. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    People are doing cool, important stuff that influences the greater culture in music, film/tv/theater, and books. I'd dare say as much as, or more so, than tech does. And sometimes, they influence the tech. I can't even tell you the number of engineers and scientists I know who have said that they were inspired to get into their fields because of the sci fi they'd been exposed to.
  13. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

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    Humanities major here!
    We need more people who can think critically, creatively, and solve problems; not fewer.
    The humanities help you to do that.
  14. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

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    Engineering school teaches you do that too... you just have to be able to make it through the calculus classes to get there.


    I really enjoyed the humanities type classes in college, but could rarely fit them into my schedule- so I often just found the syllabus and bought a few books and read them on my own. Saved me a ton of time and money...missed some good discussion I'm sure.
  15. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    Well, I will start out by saying that my son graduated with a double major - Political Science & Philosophy. Got into Law School and will graduate from Law School this May. So, in his case, humanities were key.

    Consider this: I was a Fine Arts major. I still had to take Math, History (not just Art History), Fulfill 4 science requirements, etc. Would you think that a Fine Arts Major should skip the more traditional academics? I would argue, no. Even though the painting, sculpting, computer graphics, and calligraphy :)D) courses are what they really need. They still need to know about the world, the body, and math to perform their skills. I find it interesting that many lawyers, doctors, scientists, also are talented in the arts (whether it be visual or music). I suspect that the creative approach they gain from the arts helps them see things in their field less linearly.

    I would agree that humanities are no more likely to promote working in teams than any other subject.

    You beat me to it :)!
  16. rfisher

    rfisher Satisfied skating fan

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    That's interesting. My undergrad degree is biology with a minor in history. I do believe I leaned way more problem solving in biology than I ever did in history. My grad degrees are anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology. The critical thinking, creativity and problem solving came from the pure archaeology and not the theoretical anthro.
  17. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, you need more than numbers to think and solve the problems facing our world.
    All the calculus in the world won't help you in negotiating with/relating to others; who may have viewpoints other than your own.
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  18. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    While not the same subjects, this is my experience as well.

    And obviously there are some creative geniuses who use the humanities as their inspiration or have that as their background (a la Jobs and a small set of writers, playwrights, etc.). The case has not been made to me, anyway, that a humanities education can do that for the majority of graduates. Really, Jobs didn't even need a degree to do what he did.
  19. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    While history may be a humanities subject, I don't put it into the same category as other humanities. Yes, you can learn some creativity from successes and errors made in the past. But, history is somewhat static. It is what is was.
  20. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

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    No, my point was that calculus was the barrier to entry, not that calculus classes would help you in the skills named. Engineering school definetly teaches critical thinking and creative problem solving. There is also a huge component of group work in most Engineering schools (and interdisciplinary work- we collaborated with people from many departments. Sadly, I didn't make it passed the engineering calculus, too hard for me. Business/education calculus is just so much easier!)
  21. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    "Incorporating into the curriculum" and actually teaching critical thinking effectively are two very different things.

    I don't think most college graduates have critical thinking skills, either :shuffle:.

    All of the techie nerds I know think Apple is only for people who don't have a techie bone in their bodies. None of the techies I know own an Apple product or want to. To each his own.

    Yes, but Jobs also came along how long ago? If Steve Jobs were just starting out today (or Bill Gates, another college dropout), I doubt that either one would get very far without degrees. It's a different world.

    Very few people actually need a college degree to do what they do. The college degree is what gets them in the door to show people what they can do.

    The same could be said for religion or literature, no? It isn't the what, it's the why, an ever-evolving understanding. In terms of problem-solving and critical thinking, I think history is important.

    But people are also being discouraged from going to law school now :shuffle:.
  22. overedge

    overedge Well-Known Member

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    IME whatever's being taught as critical thinking in high schools isn't being brought into university.
  23. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

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    Was there really ever a time when getting a degree in philosophy was encouraged? "Honey, why go to dental school when you can get your degree in history!" While the percentages are down, are the actual whole numbers down? More students go to university these days--the students who go these days "because that's what you're supposed to do" probably wouldn't have been Socrates ubers back in the good ol days.
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  24. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    Prior to the mid-80s, having a degree was in and of itself so unusual that even a philosophy degree had value. Since then, not so much.
  25. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    Because there are no jobs.

    Philosophy majors whose main focus was logic are still sought after in certain types of computer science and cryptography.
  26. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    I think any degree can work out for students, but you have to have some direction. An English degree isn't a bad degree IF you plan your degree for a career and not just for completing credits.

    Unfortunately, that's not something a lot of students know to do.
  27. modern_muslimah

    modern_muslimah Well-Known Member

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    Maybe colleges should invest more in career planning and require a course in career planning for freshmen or sophomores. Since the majority of students do see college as a way to get a better job, then maybe universities need to address that reality directly. Right now, it seems that the majority of students still think that a degree itself will land them a job.
  28. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    Though it may not get you a job, philosophy degrees are one of the few degrees where I find the majority of graduates have impressive critical thinking skills. (I'm not sure I'd want to hire one though since they seem to never stop thinking.) Likewise for almost any *PhD* in almost any humanities subject ==> higher level impressive critical or creative thinking. But that, to me, ties the discipline factor back to it. I don't think it is the subject per se, but that many undergrad humanities degrees do not require a certain level of rigor required to build certain skills.
  29. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    I believe history is very important, I just don't see it as being as "creative" as some other humanities. I don't see literature as being static. Writing evolves with every book written.



    As Gar said, for lack of jobs, or a glut of law school graduates. Not because the field is not necessary.

    I agree, but, I think colleges assume that is done in high school. Foolish assumption.
  30. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    Adding a course--especially right now when everyone is looking for ways to reduce costs and time spent earning degrees--is a massive undertaking.

    But literature classes rarely cover works being written now; we cover works that were written throughout.....history.

    The works haven't changed. Our understanding of the works has.

    And so it is with history. The what hasn't changed, but our understanding of the why has. History may not be creative, but for critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation, history is as good a field of study as any and better than many.

    Well, yes, but lack of jobs is the reason there is handwringing over Humanties majors. The issue isn't importance, but viability.

    Hmm, well, I think colleges are just behind the curve. Most degree requirements were developed in the days when a degree had value in and of itself. Colleges are just now beginning to feel pressure to adjust to the demands of the economy. And the pace of change is glacial in academia.
  31. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    Sure. But that holds true for the university level too. So much relies on "teaching effectively," and university is not automatically better in that dept. than high school is. I don't know how typical my experiences are, but the level of teaching I received at high school was far superior to what I got at university.
  32. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    Which is why I said I don't think most college graduates have good critical thinking skills, either.

    I don't think most people in general, left to their own devices, have particularly good critical thinking skills; there is too much noise in our thinking and too little forced discipline.
  33. VIETgrlTerifa

    VIETgrlTerifa Well-Known Member

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    I just have to say that although a liberal arts education doesn't seem that "useful," I think if you dedicate yourself to a field of study, then it can lead to opportunities.

    For example, my education helped get into law school, and I recently received a job offer for the summer at public interest organization. What really helped me in the interviewing process was my studies and knowledge of LGBT, race, and poverty issues that I wrote numerous papers in different classes in undergrad. If I couldn't talk to the organization about those topics, there is no way I would have gotten the offer.

    Maybe law school has more post-grads with varying backgrounds because there are English majors, philosophy majors, art majors, sociology majors, and of course a lot of political science majors. Of course there are people from outside the liberal arts (humanities and social sciences) like engineering majors.
  34. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

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    But that doesn't mean the humanities was more valued then than they are now. Maybe people back then got a humanities degree because it was easier to get a good grade. Or based on my multiple viewings of Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts, women only went to college to snag themselves a husband and took the humanities because they were discouraged to tackle science or math.
  35. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    Valued by whom? Employers? Students? Parents? Academics?

    As far as academics go, liberal arts have been seen as the entire purpose of a university education until the past few decades. Some still hold to that theory.

    Absolutely; just ask all the math and science majors who rack up those easy As in my English classes.

    I think Philosophy was one of the hardest courses I ever took. The logic classes were okay, but philosophic theory? :scream:

    We all aren't good at the same things.
  36. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

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    Ask the author of the posted article, who thinks the declining percentage of people obtaining humanities degrees is so alarming.

    I did not intend to post an opinion about the difficulty of the humanities or any discipline. I'm suggesting that not all people with humanities degrees, particularly those in the golden pre-80s, decided to obtain them for the love of the subject.
  37. rfisher

    rfisher Satisfied skating fan

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    Actually, it isn't. :lol: History is the product of the winners or elites and there is much that is missing. Which certainly requires critical thinking to be able to "read between the lines" as it were; however, that type of deeper analysis is not really taught to undergrads. It's the province of grad school and those students are in the same boat as the English majors. As an undergrad degree, history isn't particularly useful. Neither is biology for that matter unless you're going to grad school and there are limited non research jobs there as well, not that there aren't 4 PhDs for every university job (or more).
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  38. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    ^^ That's fair.

    That is my husband, mechanical engineering and law. He is a construction litigator. Any surprise he makes me crazy? :lol:
  39. Prancer

    Prancer The "specialness" that is Staff Member

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    I thought the author was reporting on the alarm of other people. And there are many people who are alarmed by what they see as the decline of education for education's sake, i.e., the traditional liberal arts curriculum.

    It never occurred to me that they did :confused:. I wouldn't think that of any other degree, either; plenty of people have majored in things they didn't particularly care for, and still do, and for the same reasons.

    I don't understand what you are getting at here.
  40. PRlady

    PRlady aspiring tri-national

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    In my own generation, the people who majored in humanities thirty years ago tend to be the most interesting now. I'm sorry, I know that sounds arrogant, but the people who were the most curious and interested in understanding the world around them, people and their cultures, the structures of society, the evolution of thought and the creative ways of describing the human experience -- in their fifties and sixties they are still reading, still arguing, still interesting. I meet enough engineers and "pure" businesspeople (who majored in business topics) to generalize wildly and say that by age 60, their intellectual horizons are narrower.

    But, as Prancer points out, mine were the days before the cost of that choice was twenty or thirty years of student debt. I came from a family where a scholarship was absolutely necessary to go to college, worked three jobs and still graduated with only $6K in debt. Even in 1977 dollars that's a far cry from the debt burden now.

    If I could prescribe a course for really smart kids, it would be something like what our friend and fellow poster Louis did. He combined English/humanities with math/statistics and has a fascinating job running research for a large financial company. That choice wasn't available to me, I simply lacked the talent to do that well at math and statistics. But even now, I hire kids who majored in political science, history, literature or economics. Not business and not, god help us, communications, which is an interesting career and a bullshit major.

    And most of them still can't write very well.