A recent report done by the LA Times delineated that the vast number of applicants to UC schools were intended STEM majors, and very few applied as humanities majors (latimes.com). The atrophying humanities are nothing new: The Atlantic noted that the economic recession of 2008 simply provided a catalyst for a drop in students’ pursuit of the humanities, solidifying a trend that causes colleges to slowly splinter their language, English, and arts departments in favor of more robust medical and sciences programs (theatlantic.com). Lately, it seems that all people talk about when mentioning the humanities is their imminent demise at the hands of today’s scientifically-minded society.
At the very least, all of this does make sense. When schools face budget cuts, humanities programs like art classes are often the first to go. In tandem with this, schools like our own UC High constantly push science-related pathways like engineering and computer science. There aren’t very many humanities electives, fewer foreign language choices, and limited options for the arts. Students are left with a highly skewed education, one that pushes science, technology, engineering, and math at the expense of every other school of thought.
Perhaps as a result of this, I almost decided to be a STEM major against all expectations. Despite my long history of taking every English and history class I possibly could (and loving it), I genuinely believed that one, I would be able to make a greater impact in a STEM-based career because I constantly heard that all the most important issues we face globally need scientists to solve them, and two, because I believed that the only careers in an extremely competitive workforce were science and engineering based. I fell into the trap of thinking that I would have to be highly literate in scientific practices in order to market myself well to potential employers.
I absolutely think those sentiments are totally rational for a lot of students. However, it breaks my heart to see kids diverge from their passions in art, history, linguistics — the list goes on — in order to follow a path that they don’t have a true passion for. While this age of technology absolutely requires skilled technicians and scientists, we live in a society which is more contentious than ever and desperately needs globally-learned students to be leaders and diplomats and politicians and educators and communicators. We also need unity in our society, and it’s not science that unifies us as humans, but our humanitarianism.
Not only this, but developing our humanity allows us to use scientific thought in a way that is ethical and reasonable — not all of the world’s problems fall cleanly into a scientific paradigm; certainly, much of what we as a society face (nay, the concept of society as whole) is morally complex, and morals and ethics are fluid concepts which science can’t really deal in. Those who study literature, history, culture, and art, however, have a deeply insightful perspective on the trends and issues which have shaped our society and can apply that wisdom to tackle the complexities that science cannot. While innately more complicated than civilizations of old, we still deal with the same old inequalities and power imbalances that humans have always had to deal with. In analyzing this, it’s clear that there is a vast amount of inherent value in the humanities, and the skills developed in humanitarian study are unique and necessary, no matter what education trends imply.
I’m pleased to say that I will be, without a doubt, studying English and writing in college and can’t wait to see how I’m able to use that learning to make an impact in today’s world. I just wish that more students had the chance to see the worth in the humanities and schools spent more time explaining and developing a passion for them, because we need them more than ever.