One of today’s hottest education topics is STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—programs. President Obama himself has said that the United States needs to focus more on science and math, and schools across the nation have begun adopting the STEM model into their curriculums. Add in the fact that STEM careers are literally where the money and jobs are at, and it’s no wonder interest in the humanities is waning.
For example, the New York Times recently reported that at Stanford, 45% of the undergraduate staff is within the humanities division, while only 15% of students are. Those numbers sure do make it look like the humanities are dying out. Computer science is the university’s top major, followed by human biology and engineering.
Higher education is being increasingly viewed as a required part of the journey toward professional employment. Slipping away are the days when the purpose of going to college was simply to become a more educated and well-rounded person. No, today’s tuition costs and degree requirements trumpet out the message to all that can hear: college is just one more necessary part of job preparation.
While STEM education should continue to be raised up as a vital part of higher education moving forward, we shouldn’t forget about the humanities. They are part of what reminds us of, well, our humanity. It is frightening to think that we are so swiftly moving away from studying literature, philosophy, art, history, and innumerable other subject areas that fall within the humanities. There are some amazing humanities programs offered by universities like Stanford, but without the enrollment to support the faculty, staff, and scholarships—they very well could end up dying out.
While humanities majors may not teach engineering or programming, they do teach students how to think critically and creatively. Students who study humanities are taught to regularly question, analyze, and think outside of the box. The skills gained by these programs can help students throughout life, in their careers, when determining values, solving conflicts, and so much more.
“We have failed to make the case that those skills are as essential to engineers and scientists and businessmen as to the philosophy professors,” said Leon Botstein.
Are the humanities dying? We’d better hope not—because those skills and our cultural awareness absolutely are essential.