Analysis | Why we still need to study the humanities in a STEM world (2022)

It is common to hear today, in the era of big data and STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — that liberal arts degrees are, well, relatively worthless. What is someone with a degree in English literature going to do with it, besides teach?

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The question isn’t new. A decade ago, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics magazine published an article titled “What Can I Do With My Liberal Arts Degree?” which starts with this: “What are you going to do with a degree in that? Do you want to be a teacher?”

Since then, private and public pushes to increase STEM education have given rise to new concerns about the value of a liberal arts education — as well as arguments about why it is incredibly valuable, even to people going into STEM fields. A new book by George Anders titled “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’Liberal Arts Education,” says:

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Curiosity, creativity, and empathy aren’t unruly traits that must be reined in to ensure success. Just the opposite. The human touch has never been more essential in the workplace than it is today. You don’t have to mask your true identity to get paid for your strengths. You don’t need to apologize for the supposedly impractical classes you took in college or the so-called soft skills you have acquired. The job market is quietly creating thousands of openings a week for people who can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future.

And it makes this point:

The more we automate the routine stuff, the more we create a constant low-level hum of digital connectivity, the more we get tangled up in the vastness and blind spots of big data, the more essential it is to bring human judgment into the junctions of our digital lives.

(Video) Why tech needs the humanities | Eric Berridge

Yet fewer students are studying the liberal arts than they did a few decades ago. A recent study by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, through its Humanities Indicators project, found that the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities that were earned in 2015, the last year for which there is data, was down nearly 10 percent from three years earlier.

Here’s a new piece on the humanities — what they are and why they are important — by Gerald Greenberg, senior associate dean of academic affairs; humanities; and curriculum, instruction and programs in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University. Greenberg is a linguistics expert who teaches courses in Russian and whose interests include Russian and Slavic linguistics as well as syntactic theory. He has published many articles and essays on a variety of topics, including areas such as stress placement, the syntax of various non-finite constructions, case marking and language change.

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By Gerald Greenberg

The value of a college education has long been debated. Some question an education that doesn’t explicitly provide training in a job skill — a criticism aimed at the humanities — while others push back, noting that employers increasingly are seeking the problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities that these majors bring to their jobs. Yet there are more important reasons for studying subjects within the humanities — such as philosophy, history, literature, religion, art, music, and language — and we ignore them at our own peril.

A liberal education is a cohesive collection of experiences, each providing its own unique contribution to the enlightenment of its practitioners. Typically, a liberal arts education involves the study of the natural sciences (including mathematics), the social sciences, and the humanities. (The natural sciences and math are frequently associated with STEM — science, technology, engineering, mathematics— and not considered to be part of a liberal education, even though they are.)

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(Video) Why Study the Humanities

A typical college curriculum requires students to sample fields in each subject. Within the sciences, one can learn about what happens when tiny particles collide, which can open the window into the universe. Within the social sciences, one can learn about how resources are used by people and companies, which can lead to an understanding of how the economy might develop. Within the humanities, one can learn another language, which can open the window into a new culture, a new worldview.

Many other examples exist, but the point is that it is only through engaging in the thinking processes practiced in these areas that one can be exposed to various ways of thinking, analyzing, and questioning. The experiences gained from studying in different fields may be qualitatively different, but they are all vital pieces of the Tao of the liberal arts, and are all equally important.

What is the Tao of the liberal arts? As I wrote in this piece, understanding the liberal arts is comparable to understanding the Tao, the source of everything inTaoism, an ancient Chinese philosophical system that explains why things are the way they are and why things happen the way they do. The liberal arts offer knowledge and the cultivation of habits of mind that allow graduates to mature into successful, productive members of society who can appreciate others, experience and embrace the notion of empathy, and seek lifelong learning.

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Yet while popularity in areas such as economics or neuroscience continues to grow, interest in humanistic topics is moving just as quickly in the opposite direction. Many assert the primacy of the STEM fields, while for humanistic studies, politicians belittle them, parents urge their children to avoid them, and students choose them as majors less and less.

Many defenders of the humanities emphasize the pragmatic or practical value of studying the humanities disciplines, and their arguments are good ones. Articles and studies describe how employers seek graduates who can think critically and write clearly, both by-products of studying the humanities.

Nevertheless, while there seems to be little problem defining or identifying fields in the areas of science and technology, both supporters and detractors of the humanities have difficulty defining the humanities or agreeing on a definition that encompasses them all.

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(Video) Why Bother with the Humanities?

One approach to defining the humanities involves lists: literature, philosophy, foreign language, etc. However, this not only fails to provide a definition but sometimes sparks disagreements about which areas fall within the humanities. More general definitions provide further insight into what the humanities are, but they can be confusing and lead people to conclude they are irrelevant, overly simple, not valuable, and not worthy of serious study. Some definitions indicate the humanities are disciplines that study human culture or examine the human condition. Such terms, too, become open to broad and varied interpretations, which can easily lead to confusion.

Rather than defining the fields within humanities, we can try to explain what study in the humanities does. We might say fields within the humanities study and analyze artifacts that are created by human beings, such as literature, music, art, etc. We might say the humanities help us to analyze and grapple with complex moral issues, help us understand what goes on inside of us, that is, show us what it means to be a human being. In reaction to such definitions, however, the nonbelievers reject the need to study the humanities; after all, they are human beings, they grapple with complex issues pretty much on a daily basis.

Through studying the humanities, one has the opportunity to get to know oneself and others better, the opportunity to become better able to understand and grapple with complex moral issues, the complexities and intricacies of humanity.

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When you take courses in any humanities discipline, you are using different methods to learn about individuals, including yourself, and groups of peoples. You examine relationships and feelings, the feelings of others, as well as your own feelings. You develop empathy and an appreciation for others that can help address difficult situations, personal and professional.

The ability to process information and to deal with difficult situations is important to everyone just to get through everyday life. It is also important for helping to deal with contemporary global issues at local, national, and international levels. Mathematics, the sciences, engineering, and technology are certainly useful, but the humanities provide another way of viewing issues, and better decisions are made when diverse opinions and ideas are considered.

Leaders and decision-makers who are able to employ a broader, more diverse range of ideas and knowledge will be better able to run businesses and governments and react to difficult situations as they develop and arise. We see time and time again, however, that a lack of appreciation of the humanity involved in any situation can lead to undesirable results.

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(Video) MCAA Around the World Webinar Series #8 - Bridging STEM and Humanities/Social Sciences Disciplines

The value of the humanities can only be fully appreciated by experiencing and knowing them. In response to the question: “What are the humanities?” University of Amsterdam Professor Rens Bod noted, “It is like the notion of ‘time’ in St. Augustine: if you don’t ask, we know, but if you ask, we are left empty-handed.”

Therefore, it isn’t so important to define the humanities, or what field is or isn’t part of the humanities; what’s important is what studying a humanities discipline does for the person experiencing it. Studying a humanities field involves moving beyond the search for the immediate and pragmatic; it opens one to the examination of the entirety of the human condition and encourages one to grapple with complex moral issues ever-present in life. It encourages reflection and provides one with an appreciation and empathy for humanity. This is why critical thinking done in the humanities goes beyond problem solving.

Even if we cannot agree on what they are, the humanities are an important part of the way. Given the state of the country and the world today, they are more important than ever.

You can also read:

What the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal arts’ actually means

The Tao of the liberal arts

FAQs

Why do we need humanities in the STEM world? ›

We learn invaluable (and hireable!) skills such as effective communication, logical debate, creative thinking, team collaboration, cultural understanding, and problem solving.

What are the importance of humanities? ›

The humanities provide a context for envisioning the impact—positive and negative—of new ideas in our culture, politics, and daily lives. They benefit people by helping them to think about and to consider life's surprises and challenges before they happen and by giving strength when they do happen.

What is STEM and humanities? ›

STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, not some plant-themed wrestler dude) and humanities (which stands for almost everything else) are actually the secret friends of the education world.

What does it mean to study the humanities? ›

The humanities traditionally encompass those disciplines that treat human culture, experience, and perception as an object of study while simultaneously treating the person as a knowing subject, and that pierce to the core of culture and the human condition.

What is the value of humanities? ›

Humanities expand our understanding of different human cultures and enable us to understand ways in which they're similar and ways in which they differ, in the present and historically, delivering a broader perspective on the world in which we live.

Why is the study of arts and humanities important to you as a student? ›

The humanities and the arts are central to all human cultures throughout time. Their study can facilitate deeper intercultural understanding and lay the groundwork for a civically engaged life. They can also prepare you to think critically, act creatively, and succeed in a rapidly changing world.

How does humanities help us imagine the future? ›

Through the work of humanities scholars, we learn about the values of different cultures, about what goes into making a work of art, about how history is made. Their efforts preserve the great accomplishments of the past, help us understand the world we live in, and give us tools to imagine the future.

What is humanities all about essay? ›

The humanities refer to subjects that study people, their ideas, history, and literature. To put that another way, the humanities are those branches of learning regarding primarily as having a cultural character.

Should I study STEM or humanities? ›

STEM majors do have a smoother transition from college to career, and they do earn more than humanities majors, but these advantages start to lessen as the years go on. Within the first ten years of their careers, students who majored in humanities subjects start to catch up.

Is STEM education more valuable than training in humanities? ›

Universities spend more money on STEM courses than on humanities and social science courses, according to a working paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

How do we study humanities? ›

How to Succeed in Humanities
  1. 1) Read all poetry more than once. ...
  2. 2) Rewrite. ...
  3. 3) Be sure to take notes as your read. ...
  4. 4) Take advantage of your professor's office hours, tutorials, and review sessions. ...
  5. 5) Don't take grades and comments too personally (this is easier said than done). ...
  6. 6) Bring your book to class.
3 Sept 2010

What are the benefits of studying humanities? ›

Humanities expand our knowledge of human cultures and help us understand what binds us together and what differentiates us from one another. In addition to these high-level insights, however, they also provide practical applications that can enhance your professional skillset and give you a competitive edge.

How can humanities make us more human? ›

We deprive ourselves of wisdom by marginalizing the humanities. The humanities, by showing us diverse perspectives on both an intellectual and emotional level, deepen empathy and paves the way for a global perspective requisite for establishing common ground between different cultures.

How does humanities affect our daily lives? ›

Humanities can tell us about ourselves, how we interact and get along and why we sometimes don't!” “Studying the humanities helps us to better understand who we are, our identity as a people, a society and a culture, and how to organise our societies so we can achieve our goals.

What is humanities in your own words? ›

humanities Add to list Share. The humanities are studies about human culture, such as literature, philosophy, and history. Studying the humanities gives you general knowledge, but not a practical trade — you probably wouldn't study humanities at beauty school.

What can a humanities student do in life? ›

The list of career options can include jobs in mass communication, international relations, academics, psychology, hospitality and marketing.
...
The humanities job list consists of diverse roles like:
  • editor.
  • multimedia specialist.
  • digital marketing strategist.
  • archivist.
  • analyst.
  • psychologist.
  • data linguist.
  • lawyer.
4 Oct 2021

What skills can the humanities teach you? ›

Humanities majors develop important skills, often called “soft skills,” which include persuasive written and oral communication, creative problem-solving, teamwork, decision-making, self-management, and critical analysis.

What is the value of the humanities and social sciences? ›

Through studying Humanities and Social Sciences, students will develop the ability to question, think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, make decisions and adapt to change.

Why is humanities better than science? ›

Through humanities, we learn how to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions. In science, mathematics and engineering classes, one is given facts, answers, knowledge, and truth. The professors say,“This is how things are.” They give you certainty.

What skills can humanities teach me? ›

Humanities majors develop important skills, often called “soft skills,” which include persuasive written and oral communication, creative problem-solving, teamwork, decision-making, self-management, and critical analysis.

How is humanities different from science? ›

Both Humanities and Social Science study human beings, our cultures, and societies. However, Humanities have a subjective, critical-thinking or opinion-based approach. Social Science has an objective approach based on research and scientific evidence.

How humanities help us in the future? ›

Through the work of humanities scholars, we learn about the values of different cultures, about what goes into making a work of art, about how history is made. Their efforts preserve the great accomplishments of the past, help us understand the world we live in, and give us tools to imagine the future.

What is humanities in your own words? ›

humanities Add to list Share. The humanities are studies about human culture, such as literature, philosophy, and history. Studying the humanities gives you general knowledge, but not a practical trade — you probably wouldn't study humanities at beauty school.

What is it importance of humanities and social science to you and your community? ›

Through studying Humanities and Social Sciences, students are given opportunities to develop their ability to question, think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, make decisions and adapt to change.

How do we study humanities? ›

How to Succeed in Humanities
  1. 1) Read all poetry more than once. ...
  2. 2) Rewrite. ...
  3. 3) Be sure to take notes as your read. ...
  4. 4) Take advantage of your professor's office hours, tutorials, and review sessions. ...
  5. 5) Don't take grades and comments too personally (this is easier said than done). ...
  6. 6) Bring your book to class.
3 Sept 2010

What values do the humanities hold for your career goals? ›

Humanities expand our knowledge of human cultures and help us understand what binds us together and what differentiates us from one another. In addition to these high-level insights, however, they also provide practical applications that can enhance your professional skillset and give you a competitive edge.

Which one is better science or humanities? ›

Humanities courses, in particular, are often better at teaching students how to write. Science is about generating and sharing knowledge to build our collective wisdom. So communicating the results of scientific research is a core responsibility of a scientist… something that has become a bit of a topical issue.

What are some of the benefits of learning about humanities? ›

A humanistic education will help you understand, appreciate, and produce art, music, theatre, and literature. Humanities disciplines focus on understanding beauty and the good, and give students the opportunity to practice making good and beautiful things themselves.

Why do you need to study the humanities and the arts? ›

The humanities and the arts are central to all human cultures throughout time. Their study can facilitate deeper intercultural understanding and lay the groundwork for a civically engaged life. They can also prepare you to think critically, act creatively, and succeed in a rapidly changing world.

How can humanities make us more human? ›

We deprive ourselves of wisdom by marginalizing the humanities. The humanities, by showing us diverse perspectives on both an intellectual and emotional level, deepen empathy and paves the way for a global perspective requisite for establishing common ground between different cultures.

What is humanities and social sciences Strand? ›

HUMSS stands for Humanities and Social Sciences. It is one of the strands offered to Senior High students. This strand is for learners who aim to take up journalism, communication arts, liberal arts, education, and other social science-related courses in college.

Why do we need to study social science? ›

Thus, social sciences help people understand how to interact with the social world—how to influence policy, develop networks, increase government accountability, and promote democracy. These challenges, for many people around the world, are immediate, and their resolution can make a vast difference in people's lives.

What does humanities and natural science have in common? ›

The similarities of humanities and natural science are as follows: Humanities studies human beings and their behavior, natural science studies the physical world. Both the studies use scientific ways, both deal with human aspects of law, politics, economics, linguistics, psychology, etc.

Videos

1. Professor Rens Bod: How the humanities have changed the world
(Carlsbergfondet)
2. #152 The Power of the Humanities feat. Christian Madsbjerg
(unSILOed Podcast with Greg LaBlanc)
3. Humanities and STEM: A Conversation on Teaching and Learning
(Duke Learning Innovation)
4. LUMS Live Session #63: Why Study The Humanities and Social Sciences
(Lahore University of Management Sciences)
5. Professor Stefan Collini: On not "justifying" the humanities
(Carlsbergfondet)
6. Equality between STEM and Humanities | Rhea Raman | TEDxWhitneyHigh
(TEDx Talks)

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