As you’ve probably been hearing over the past decade, our students are falling behind in STEM fields. In 2008, the United States ranked 30th in math literacy and 24th in science literacy and between 2003-2009, nearly 50 percent of students working towards their bachelor’s degrees in STEM didn’t finish their program or switched to a non-STEM major.
These are pretty dismal stats and they’ve led to an increase in the merits placed on degrees in science, technology, math and engineering. While this is great, it has essentially created a “humanities-degree-bashing party” by encouraging people to place more importance on STEM degrees. This climate has become increasingly more hostile and derogatory toward those in the social sciences and humanities, especially among college students and higher education institutions, and it needs to stop.
I get it, I really do. The types of people with science and technology backgrounds are the ones who heal wounds and bodies and who created the iPhone and my baby a.k.a my laptop. They work in laboratories studying diseases and microorganisms and understand mathematical equations that I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around.
But this doesn’t degrade mine or others’ hard work toward a humanities degree or make it any less valuable. I’m tired of being told that my four years in higher ed is pointless and being asked, “Why would you want to enter a profession that doesn’t pay well?” It is even more frustrating when people assume you’re not smart enough to pursue a STEM degree or you just don’t have the discipline. Surely it couldn’t be the fact that humanities majors genuinely enjoy what they’re learning in their classes. Of course not, that would be absurd and just something one would say to make themselves feel better. After all, isn’t journalism a dying field anyway? Aren’t there no jobs for lawyers? Aren’t teachers being paid less? Isn’t social work pointless? No. Just, no. (Can ya tell I’m a tad bitter?)
Higher education institutions have played into the belief that STEM > Humanities and this is hurting the students they produce. Engineering, math and science departments are slowly cutting out core liberal arts classes, making the argument that they just can’t fit it all into the curriculum. But what’s going to happen when these future professionals go to write grants to receive the funds for their endeavors? A grant full of run-on sentences, fragments and typos won’t beat out a grant that is is free of these errors. Even if you were to have someone proofread and fix these basic grammar mistakes, it still wouldn’t mean that the organization and flow of ideas in the grant itself would make sense. These are techniques one learns through taking courses in the humanities. When you criticize these fields, you criticize and devalue the educational abilities they provide as well.
And what about the government employees who provide the funds going toward these STEM projects? Or the people who work with the money, making sure there is enough to be doled out? I’m guessing many may consider their humanities degrees, whether it be in political science, business, public policy-making or another field, not nearly as worthy as the degrees held by the people who are receiving the funds. Yeah, definitely mention that to them and see how far it gets you.
It worries me how little many in STEM majors seem to know about current events, the government and politics. For a class project last year, the group I was in took a survey and asked people to list their major as one of the questions. To measure how well informed our respondents were about politics, we asked how they felt about no women ever serving on the Supreme Court. Of course this was a ridiculous question as, to date, four women have served. And yet, most in the STEM majors had no idea there were already female judges in the highest court of the land. Even more worrisome is the lack of knowledge surrounding global events. For example, I’ve heard of several encounters with STEM students who simply don’t understand the political climate in the Middle East or other areas. They aren’t gaining the knowledge in class to fit all of the current event information together. This begs two questions: 1) should learning about political and current events be deemed lesser than learning about science, math and technology? 2) Is one type of knowledge really better than another?
All of this to say that both of these vast subjects should be held in high esteem, as they both produce essential elements in our lives. Doctors work to extend and save lives, government employees and lawyers work to extend and save the rights you have during your life; those working in technology created the internet, screenwriters create the TV shows you spend hours watching on the internet; engineers produced the car, theatre and dance majors produce the shows your car transports you to see. For overall, STEM jobs can help extend and improve lives, but jobs in the humanities can make lives worth living. I, for one, would like both.
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