The humanities are on the decline, and we are all worse off for it.
In June, Business Insider published an article bemoaning the effects of “the war against humanities.” The increased emphasis on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has increased funding to these programs in the U.S. while funding to the humanities has decreased, according to a 2013 report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Consequently, there are fewer students who are being trained to think and write clearly.
In 1991, the top two majors at Yale University were history and English, according to a June editorial in The New York Times called “The Decline and Fall of the English Major.” This year, the top majors were economics and political science.
By creating a culture that heavily emphasizes STEM programs at the expense of the humanities, we are neglecting those things that make the human experience so fascinating, such as imagination and empathy.
“You can’t really know yourself or what you really need without paying attention to things like literature and history and language — the core of the humanities,” said Christopher Cokinos, a UA associate professor of English. “[The humanities are] not only about self-discovery, but about cultural understanding and careful thinking.”
These skills are applicable to more than just the English Department — they’ll be beneficial regardless of what field you may find yourself in.
“If you find [English majors], you need to run over and catch them in a conversation,” said Bracken Darrell, the CEO of Logitech, in a June interview with Business Insider. Humanities majors are taught to think critically and clearly, and above all, to be able to articulate their ideas to others.
“The best CEOs and leaders are extremely good writers and have this ability to articulate and verbalize what they’re thinking,” Darrell said.
As the co-founder and twice-CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs also embodied this line of thinking. In a speech introducing the first iPad in April 2010, Jobs said that “Apple’s DNA [is] technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities.”
Ultimately, the solution is balance. The humanities and the sciences can and should be able to communicate with one another. For instance, the UA English Department has its Convergences program, with this year’s theme, ”The Body: (Dis)Integrations and Interventions,” actively promoting an interdisciplinary dialogue on ways of understanding the body through literature and science.
Instead of accepting an either/or narrative when it comes to STEM and the humanities, we should instead work to bring the best of these fields together. After all, the humanities and sciences are ultimately trying to answer the same questions about how we got here, what we are supposed to do while we are here and what makes life worth living — they simply go about finding the answers in different ways.
Carson Suggs is a senior studying English.Follow him on Twitter.com/@crsnsggs.