What are the humanities and why do they matter in the age of STEM?
Like a lot of things of the mid-late 20th Century, a liberal arts education was a rare bird that floated on the wave of modernist prosperity.
When i graduated high school in 1980, or when my parents graduated in the late 50s, there was an optimism that one would land a job without a specialized education. I studied a range of humanities-related topics in college for 5 years, never graduated, and have had careers in journalism, music production, landscaping, and for the past 10 years have been a worker-owner at a cooperative food business.
That optimism is, rightly, not present for recent generations, and the perceived requirement for specialized education is far more compelling than it used to be so the landscape seems very different to me.
For me, what's compelling about a self-reflective and robust humanities education now is that it may be the only way to save us from ourselves. The more powerful and universally distributed or specialized scientific powers become, the more desperately we're going to need wisdom and humility to avoid destroying ourselves. It may have seemed a luxury 50 years ago, now it's all that stands between us and 14 different kinds of armageddon.
As a HigherEd professional I long for the embrace of strong humanities with a STEM or other "Career Ready" majors. We need critical thought. We need curiosity. We need art. We need humanities.
Learning how to do well with difficult material that you do not like working on is useful later in life. Learning how to present a talk on a complex topic is useful in later life.
Learning to muti-task and work under intense pressure is useful in later life.
Learning how to conduct research on complicated subject matter and learning how to read critically and learning how to write well with proper punctuation, spelling, grammar, citation and organization is very useful in the work world.
Learning how to synthesize multiple sources of information and learning via the Socratic method are all advantages of a humanities education which will help one with communication in the business world and thus assist one in rising up the corporate ladder.
A grounding in the humanities is essential to any civilized society, IMO. I was fortunate to have attended a Edsel Ford High School, at the height of its humanities curriculum in which we had humanities study every day, three days of literature, one day of music, and one day of art. Here is a snippet from the inaugural yearbook (1956):. In all three divisions, analysis and discussion lead the student to consider ideas of his relationship to himself and to his fellow men, and to nature, society, and a Higher Being.
Sadly, this curriculum was dismantled in 2008, focusing instead on providing a "rigorous education in all subjects that will prepare them for life after high school..."
I worry that the failure of our educational system to focus on what it means to be human, where we no longer feel its important to consider ideas of his relationship to others, is what is leading to what seems like a tsunami of narcissists, leading to a situation in which we will be forced to accept self-serving and likely inhuman results from technology void of emotion or connection to its human creators.