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    Colleges Defend the Humanities Despite High Costs, Dim Job Prospects

    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/wh...ntent=My+Yahoo

    Ray’s anxiety was understandable. As rising tuition and mounting student debt makes prospective income a bigger part of choosing a major, humanities disciplines such as philosophy and history are under attack in favor of such fields as engineering and business, which are more likely to lead to jobs and salaries that justify the cost of four-year college education.

    “Higher education has really pressed this idea that if you have a college education, you’ll make more,” says Ray, an economist by training. That’s true, he says, but the strategy of emphasizing the financial value of degrees has backfired on the academy. “Shame on us. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the next step is, which major pays the most.”

    That question is currently on the minds of many high school seniors and their parents, as they await college admissions decisions and the students consider what classes to take. And it’s driving a debate over the very purpose of higher education—whether universities and colleges exist to teach people general knowledge, or to train them for specific jobs.

    This is no longer just an academic conversation. Only 8 percent of students now major in the humanities, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, down from a peak of more than 17 percent in 1967.

    Worried that enrollment in these subjects will continue to slip, university officials say it could lead entire departments to disappear. And they contend that what would be lost is exactly what employers say they really need: the kind of educations that teach students how to think, innovate, communicate, work in teams, and solve problems.
    At my own university, some of the first programs to be cut during the budget crisis a few years ago were the humanities programs.
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    The humanities should be defended. University education is not supposed to be trade school. Trade school is trade school.

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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 by cruisin; 03-07-2013 at 08:31 PM.

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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 by snoopy; 03-07-2013 at 06:20 PM.
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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.

    And they contend that what would be lost is exactly what employers say they really need: the kind of educations that teach students how to think, innovate, communicate, work in teams, and solve problems.
    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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cruisin View Post
    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 alloy to subjects that are not typically considered creative themselves.
    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.

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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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    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.
    ^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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by snoopy View Post
    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.
    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).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    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).
    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.
    And so, dear Lord, it is with deep sadness that we turn over to you this young woman, whose dream to ride on a giant swan resulted in her death. Maybe it is your way of telling us... to buy American.

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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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by snoopy View Post
    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.
    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.
    And so, dear Lord, it is with deep sadness that we turn over to you this young woman, whose dream to ride on a giant swan resulted in her death. Maybe it is your way of telling us... to buy American.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bardtoob View Post
    The humanities should be defended. University education is not supposed to be trade school. Trade school is trade school.
    Humanities major here!
    We need more people who can think critically, creatively, and solve problems; not fewer.
    The humanities help you to do that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skatesindreams View Post
    We need more people who can think critically, creatively, and solve problems; not fewer.
    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.

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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.

    Quote Originally Posted by snoopy View Post
    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.
    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 () 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.

    Quote Originally Posted by GarrAarghHrumph View Post
    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.
    You beat me to it !

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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.
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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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    Quote Originally Posted by rfisher View Post
    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.
    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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rfisher View Post
    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.
    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skatesindreams View Post
    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.
    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!)

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