I recently received an email with the best of intentions — one announcing a workshop for information on career options. The notification that popped up on my phone had the subject line: “Major Choices: What Arts and Humanities Are Good For.” Of course, this seems like such a great endorsement of the arts and humanities and an encouragement for the fields ... until you realize it implies that most people would need this workshop in order to know what the arts and humanities are actually good for.
So many people — including humanities majors themselves — are buzzing about the “death of the humanities,” but that in and of itself is the problem. Why are we pegging the humanities as dying? Why are people in the humanities fields lamenting a death that, in perspective of what the humanities aim for, isn’t really happening?
There a few facts we cannot deny. First, people in humanities fields do not make as much money as science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors. This, although it may not be fair, is undoubtedly true; STEM majors are raking in up to $32,000 per year more than humanities majors.Second, STEM majors are more likely to get a job straight out of college —in fact, STEM majors’ initial unemployment rate is generally lower, with majors such as engineering yielding a 7 percent unemployment rate and health and the sciences at about 5 percent, while that of humanities majors is at around 9 percent.
There are countless other statistics that bash liberal arts majors. However, 40 percent of all liberal arts and humanities majors go on to receive graduate degrees, nearly halving the wage gap. As for unemployment, the discrepancy may be high straight out of college, but over time, the gap lowers to a mere 1 percent difference favoring non-humanities over humanities majors. When compared to humanities majors with graduate degrees, the rate actually favors the humanities by half a percent.
So yes, there is a discrepancy between career fields when viewed from a quantitative perspective, but actually looking into the numbers reveals that even this discrepancy is not as large most people think it is. For some reason, however, this idea of measuring the value of a field by numbers has taken over our judgment system, especially with the obsession with the “dying humanities.” I’ve heard everyday conversations between STEM majors on campus discussing the uselessness of the humanities, but I’ve also heard plenty of conversations between humanities majors lamenting over the fact that their field is “dying” or joking that they’ll probably end up jobless.
My question to both parties: Since when is the value of the humanities based on money? Why do we disrespect our own fields by accepting such a base method of value measurement? I’m not sure when the judgment metric shifted to numbers, but it seems that students in the humanities have now accepted and confirmed humanities' death sentence by letting their value come from public perception and monetary earnings. Instead of combating public perception and STEM majors’ scorn with more numbers, (which may or may not convince) humanities majors (myself included) should be reiterating that the humanities will never die because their value lies within their contributions to humanity and society.
The arts and humanities do much more than make money. They do exactly what the name implies: They help define who we are as human beings. The humanities show us who we were, who we are and who we can be — our history, our present and our future as individuals and as a society. They aid us in internal struggles and external ones, reminding us of past injustices that cannot be forgotten or repeated and reminding us of all the opportunities for a brighter future. Somehow, through endless scandal, bloody wars and merciless genocides, the human race has managed to hold onto a thread of humanity and justice, however thin this thread may be at times. The humanities —whether history, art, literature, music, etc. —set a solid foundation for our ability to be human and to treat other humans with respect. They chronicle our history and provide the only way to look back in order to change the future —we uncover old histories in order to write new ones.
Don’t get me wrong: Technology, science and math have their place and are just as necessary. The humanities, however, touch the inner parts of our minds and souls in ways that technology alone cannot. People seem to forget the moment that tech-giant Bill Gates said this: “The goal should be that everybody gets a chance to read great books and participate in the richness that humanities bring us.” Or, when the other tech-giant of this generation, Steve Jobs, said this: “It’s technology married with liberal arts, humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”
Technology doesn’t cancel out the importance of the humanities any more than the humanities do the importance of technology. It’s time we accepted the fact that they can, and have to, coexist. A rise in “practicality” of one doesn’t mean the other loses any value whatsoever, unless your idea of “value” is as artificial as money. It’s time other majors stopped bashing the humanities, but it’s also time that humanities majors stop mourning their own fields. The humanities won’t die unless we allow death to be judged by numbers — and if we allow this, we’re killing the real purpose of the field on our own, without any outside help. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is called suicide.
Logan Sander is a freshman fromSylvania, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.