by Vincenza Belletti
In a technologically advancing world, increasing emphasis is being placed on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This emphasis results in the devaluing of the humanities, such as English, history, and the arts. College students are selecting majors, and subsequently careers, that are not interested in simply because it is the “safe option”.
The word “humanities” comes from the Renaissance Latin expression studia humanitatis, or “study of humanitas“, a classical Latin word meaning, in addition to “humanity”, “culture, refinement, education” and, specifically, an “education befitting a cultivated man”.
Why is it then, that society considers those studying the humanities to be less educated than those studying STEM, despite the same level of education being achieved?
This is because it’s a common misconception that not being good at math or science automatically classifies you as less smart than those skilled in STEM subjects, despite doing well in other subjects, such as history and English.
In a sense, I can understand why some people feel this way about the humanities. What purpose do literature and history serve when cultivating innovation and advancement as a society? There is a quote from the late Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society that I believe provides one of several answers to this question, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world. We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering: these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love— these are what we stay alive for.”
This quote captures the quintessence of the emotional need for the humanities, but there is a logical need as well. The humanities are essentially a study of humans and their behavior. This is crucial from a human advancement and historical point of view. How can one prevent the mistakes of the past if they are ignored and deemed “unimportant”? How can one understand the current human needs if they can’t recognize how these needs have evolved over time?
In addition, not to get political or anything, but President Trump and his administration are preparing to entirely eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). According to the official websites for the NEH and NEA, both receive $148 million dollars from the $3.9 trillion dollar government budget, a mesley .006%.
The humanities are no less important than STEM. Each area of education provides benefits for humans and placing a higher value on one only allows for students to be hesitant to pursue what they truly love. Show children and teenagers that loving art or literature is no less noble than loving chemistry or engineering.