Colleges Defend the Humanities Despite High Costs, Dim Job Prospects

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

  1. 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.
     
  2. Prancer

    Prancer Jawwalking 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.
     
  3. 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.
     
  4. 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.
     
  5. Prancer

    Prancer Jawwalking 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.
     
  6. 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.
     
  7. 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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  8. 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:
     
  9. Prancer

    Prancer Jawwalking 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.
     
  10. PRlady

    PRlady Smoking

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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.
     
  11. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    My university was originally an "aggie" when it was founded, a land-grant uni, which for those who aren't familiar with it is a type of school which was designed to create educated farmers and teach other practical subjects, such as engineering, in response to the industrial revolution and other things going on at that time. I remember reading the history of how such unis were founded back in the mid-to-late 1800's, and how radical this type of idea was. A uni that taught practical subjects, and to regular people! Prior to that, uni education was liberal arts, and it was for the sons of the wealthy. The idea of studying a practical subject like agricultural engineering - and that the middle class could do so - was all kinds of wow.

    Even after that time, the liberal arts were the preferred subjects to study at the elite colleges. Very few such colleges even offered more career-oriented majors. Even today, quite a few of the elite unis don't offer a business major, for example.

    I think someone had posted here at FSU the article (probably in the Chronicle of Higher Ed) about business being the new "default" major, like communications used to be. That at a lot of unis (not all, obviously), it's not a particularly challenging major. If I can find the article again, I'll link it.

    And you know how I feel about student writing. I know we'd like to think that students learn this stuff in high school, but the reality is that the number of students needing remedial math and English in college contradicts that. The info may be available to them in HS, but they certainly don't learn it.
     
  12. jeffisjeff

    jeffisjeff Well-Known Member

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    what struck me about the article was the statistic that only 8% of college students major in the humanities. That seemed low to me and made me wonder if we'd eventually reach the point where humanities majors were in demand. I mean, surely someone needs humanities majors? Or are we at the point where all middle/high school English, art and language teachers have undergraduate degrees in education rather than in their subject area? Or where everyone who works in publishing has a degree in, um, editing? I see the reasoning behind the push for universities to provide career training, but does that mean that everything will now be turned into a "trade" with specifically designed majors?

    I remember that too. I may even have linked to it :shuffle: (although probably not). IME, the rigor level at b-schools varies quite a bit. Around here, the business major is popular among the hockey players. Which tells us something.
     
  13. overedge

    overedge Well-Known Member

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  14. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    I was fortunate, in that, my parents could afford to pay for my education. But, having graduated in 1975, it was $6,000 a year. What we had to pull together for our kid's undergrad degrees was :scream:! We paid for undergrad, but they are paying (with loans, scholarships, and small amount of inheritance) for their own grad degrees. Neither should be too bad, daughter is going to a state school, son has a $20,000 a year merit scholarship.

    Back when I was in school, psychology was the default major. Can't do a damn thing with it with just an undergrad degree, but the numbers of psych majors was astonishing!

    Some do, but their business school has another name. IE: Warton.

    Do you think that is due to a lack of learning in HS? Or do you think it has to do with the poor skills perpetuated by texting and computer assisted writing? Or a combination of both?
     
  15. altai_rose

    altai_rose Well-Known Member

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    And I'm one of them. IMO, major in something you're interested in, and double-major in something "useful."

    I loved my college humanities classes and wish I had the time to take more. I think there's a huge difference between majoring in humanities as an undergrad and doing a humanities PhD. If you're going to spend the rest of your life doing science, engineering, law, etc. then undergrad is really the last time you can explore different subjects and take humanities classes. In medical school, there's a large number of students who were English, philosophy, Italian, etc. majors as undergrads. Of course, they also took the pre-med classes or did a post-bac, but I don't think majoring in a humanities subject was a negative in their application. Even in my neuroscience PhD program, there's a guy who majored in philosophy and there are also overlaps between neuroscience and philosophy (ie, theory of mind).
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2013
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  16. Prancer

    Prancer Jawwalking Staff Member

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    Not Garr, but.....

    After noting that many students were struggling to keep up with courses, Harvard implemented its first written entrance exam in 1874. More than half of the students failed it. And thus was born the first (but far from last) required freshman composition course.

    "The Illiteracy of American Boys" is rather a fun read about how the schools and parents are failing--failing!--our young people by not teaching the value of correct English! http://www.archive.org/stream/educationalrevie13newyuoft#page/vi/mode/2up

    Someone posted an even better screed here once (PDillemma, maybe) expressing outrage over the poor grammar and unclear expression of ideas in the writing of American students dating from roughly the same period.

    Freshman comp has gone in and out of vogue since those first classes at Harvard, but the issue has always been whether or not comp classes are worth anything, not whether or not students write so well as to not need them. I have never known of a time when professors thought students could write well, and I expect that's because the ability to write well, like many other things, can't be taught, but only learned.
     
  17. Southpaw

    Southpaw Saint Smugpawski

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    As Woody Allen said "You can't teach someone how to be a writer, that's like trying to teach someone how to be a midget."
     
  18. michiruwater

    michiruwater Well-Known Member

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    I learned to write well by loving to read. Everyone I know who loves to read (and I don't mean 'loves romance novels,' I mean someone who loves to read and will read a wide variety of subjects and genres) can write well. My general opinion, based on absolutely no facts and with no evidence to support it, is that if you can teach your child to love to read, so that they read often, they will probably write well.
     
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  19. PDilemma

    PDilemma Well-Known Member

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    I think there is some validity to this. IME, most students who read books regularly outside of school assignments were less likely to struggle with sentence structure and basic grammar.

    I find that schools simply do not teach enough academic writing of the sort that college requires. I was encouraged to teach less of that and more creative, expressive and personal writing even to honors level college bound seniors. There is nothing wrong with that kind of writing, but it isn't the skill set you need to later master technical writing and lab reports and research papers in college. The middle school in the system I last taught in did nothing but creative and personal writing, and that is the focus for most elementary instruction, too. Informative or expository writing does not get much time in the curriculum.
     
  20. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not so sure about that. Both Jobs/Wozniak and Gates were incredible entrepreneurs. You can't teach that. And I think there's still room in today's society to welcome a true-blue hustler who comes out with a great product but doesn't have the greatest academic credentials.

    It's just easier in the tech field, where all everybody cares about is what you can do and make. Nobody cares where you went to school if you can make a great product.

    Right. You have to have an idea of how you're going to leverage what you have.

    Alf was an engineering major, and he's quite different from my classmates. (I went to a liberal arts school.) He's exactly as you say - he generalizes wildly and has absolutely no interest in deep artistic, political, or cultural issues. I can explain certain things to him, but I have to judge carefully whether he wants to hear about it or not. :p

    I find that even my classmates who were science majors are still very curious about artistic, political, and cultural issues, including me.

    If you can hack it, I highly recommend going to a liberal arts school, but as a hard science major. :) Best of both worlds!
     
  21. DAngel

    DAngel Active Member

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    I think I agree with this guy more:

    http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/01/10/a-short-rant-on-the-you-cant-teach-writing-meme/

    And I think this article applies to other artistic endeavors such as painting, singing, etc.
     
  22. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    This is an aside but the engineers on the atheist boards take a lot of flack for being such black and white thinkers. A lot of the atheists are philosophy majors FWIW. (I was engineering undergrad, though I redirected my career twice.)

    To Jeff's point on being in demand for humanities, well there does seem do be a huge opportunity to make certain humanities degrees very relevant. There are obviously skills that are missing and they can fill the void.

    If my kid wanted to major in general biz or communication or psychology, I'd hope they were also fabulously good looking or had sparkling personalities. Preferably both.
     
  23. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    They also tend to have much better vocabularies and use their words more effectively.

    Interesting, when I was in middle school, we learned sentence structure, grammar, composition (writing topic sentences, paragraph structure). When my kids were in middle school, they got a workbook for those things, very little actual class time.

    I think painting and singing can be taught. But, I do think you have to have some vocal ability to be able to sing well. As for painting, I do think the technical aspects can be taught. However, the ability to visualize and compose what you want to paint is difficult to teach.
     
  24. rfisher

    rfisher Satisfied skating fan

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    I can speak of the historical projection of a fascinating major that fosters thinking and interesting people and that's archaeology. Prior to the 1970s, it was very much a major for the sons of wealthy men. There is a reason why the archaeology departments at Harvard and Yale did so much. Other Ivies supported classical archaeology in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The graduates also financed their own digs. There was a significant change in the 70s when middle class students could get not just PhDs, but masters in archaeology and find employment in contract archaeology. All building projects in the US began to require assessments. There was $$$. Suddenly, anthropology departments had 100s of undergrads and there were plenty of jobs for grad students. Fast forward to the 90s and things began to change. All that $$$ began to go away. Contract firms for cultural resource management went out of business. Almost every academic position for anthropology has 10 applicants and there aren't jobs in the field for those who don't get one of them. There is a reason I'm doing what I do and not what I'd rather do. The field is once again returning to its roots and if you can't go to school on your parent's dime and don't really have to worry about finding a job, it's not a viable field. The field is once again the provenience of the wealthy just as it was 100 years ago. Marine biology is the same (my other passion). Explosion of jobs in the 70s, virtually none now. Trust fund babies can dabble and make up the majority of undergrads with a few really talented people being sent on to grad school. Cue in paleontology as another field. It's sad, but a reality if you are a middle class or blue collar student, you simply can't afford the luxury of the fun or interesting major unless you are extremely bright and talented. There will always be a means for those few, but they are and always will be the minority. So, don't give your kid dinosaur toys or take them to archaeology digs (there are plenty available as they like volunteer labor) or go to Sea World (well you shouldn't do that in any event for an entirely different reason).
     
  25. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    Interesting is in the eye of the beholder. My SO was an English major and I have been at enough parties with him where he is waxing on about economic development in Zimbabwe and everyone’s eyes glaze over after 5 minutes. Generally speaking, knowing about sports and American Idol will make you the most popular conversationalist in the average American crowd.
     
  26. cruisin

    cruisin Well-Known Member

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    Sad, but true. :lol:
     
  27. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    Yes, the 8% statistic was a bit of a head-scratcher for me too. But then so was the 17% statistic. I am of course going largely by my own experiences in the faculty of Arts, but it seemed like a bigger world than that, even way back in the 80s.

    I count myself incredibly lucky that I happened to land in a field (editing) that suits my abilities and passions, despite having very little to do with my university education (history & polisci). But obviously I'm not the only one. There's a vast range of careers out there that have no direct correlation to university faculties. So is that message not being communicated to prospective undergrads? Is it fear of the unknown that keeps students from majoring in the humanities? Lack of imagination?
     
  28. flyingsit

    flyingsit Well-Known Member

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    When I went to college in the second half of the 1980s, one of the reasons that I chose to major in journalism was that it was a "small" major; there were not many required courses, so a minor was required. I got a minor in political science, I was one course away from a minor in history, and I was well on my way to a minor in classics as well.

    A few of the classics courses were by far the most challenging that I took in my entire time in school.
     
  29. VIETgrlTerifa

    VIETgrlTerifa Well-Known Member

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    For a vast number of jobs out there for college graduates, I wonder if it really matters what one gets a degree in just so long that they have one. Since we're in a heavily service-industry environment, do you think a B.A. is just one of the "plus" factors hiring personnel look at when reviewing one's resume?

    I mean I think there are many college graduates who end up working in industries that don't necessarily correlate with what they studied, but they seem satisfied enough with where they end up. If that's the case, then why not study something that one is passionate about?

    I worked in a Fortune 500 company while in college, and the staff were full of graduates with a wide variety of degrees. In the corporate side, many didn't have a business or business-related degree and instead studied social sciences or the humanities. I think to succeed in those businesses, the ability to network, impress those that matter, and learn important skills on the job seem to matter more in terms of one's ability to move up. Of course, I'm not talking about jobs that require a specific educational background like engineering or finance or accounting.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2013
  30. PRlady

    PRlady Smoking

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    :rofl: I was one of those philosophy/history majors who is now on the atheist boards/attending atheist events and I agree with you about the engineers. My father, however, was an engineer for RCA. He died when I was six. Later on, his best friend gave me a tape of an evening they spent together while my mom was pregnant with me, and there they are yelling at each other about whether Saroyan and Steinbeck were good writers. (Very '50s.) So obviously I don't think all engineers are black/white thinkers, just enough of them to generalize.

    When I went to work as a secretary at a PR/public affairs firm in 1984, I literally did not know what they did. My college was so "impractical" it did not offer one business course. I took statistics over the summer at another school.

    Five years later, after four promotions, I was watching that immortal '80s series "Thirtysomething" and it turned out the lead guy, an advertising executive, majored in philosophy undergrad at Penn. I must have laughed for five minutes. Since then, I've discovered there are a LOT of philosophy majors in PR, public affairs and marketing. Perhaps something about all that analytical and linguistic blue-skying is the connection, or we just needed jobs. :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2013