Where are the Humanities?


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Definition of word culture in dictionary

Praise Kim, Staff Writer

Most English classes require some sort of reading of fictitious literature, which may strike confusion into many students: Why does one read fiction in school when it does not teach inarguable facts like Science or Social Studies classes? What’s the point of knowledge if it is not objectively true? Although activities in English class may seem pointless to students, the truth of the matter is that, when one reads anything, even fiction, one is practicing their critical thinking and fluency of absorbing information, which is inarguably a crucial skill for success in later years. English class is a subject that fits into the broader area of study called the arts and humanities, which are subjects of study that come from human culture, values, or expression, including classes like philosophy, art, literature, English, and history. Just as one must-read books to practice the fundamental skill of verbal comprehension and communication in English class, one must engage in other humanitarian subjects to emphasize critical thinking depending on subjective human interpretation. But such skills are not being cultivated with the growing lack of interest in the arts and humanities.

 “…the number of college students graduating with a humanities majors has fallen for the eighth straight year to under 200,000 degrees in 2020,” reads “The number of college graduates in the humanities drops for the eighth consecutive year” by Jill Barshay, published by the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, published in 2021. It would not be far-fetched to say that the popularity of the humanities is dying.

There is much speculation as to why the humanities are on a steady decline. For one, it is widely conceived that finding a job through a humanities degree is quite challenging, as many graduates only to do nothing with their degrees. STEM and business-related subjects sometimes entice students because they are statistically and historically lucrative fields. Our need for money and societal competition pushes us to make decisions that ensure financial security. It simply seems safer. Yet, the struggle for securing a job is common among graduates with a large spectrum of degrees on their hands. Burning Glass Technologies published a report in 2018 titled “Majors that Matter: Ensuring College Graduates Avoid Underemployment”, stating that:


…popular majors such as business, legal studies, and public administration, have some of the highest underemployment rates…these…majors account for 4 in 10 bachelor’s degrees…in the United States…[T]he enrollment…in these majors has increased 80 percent, compared to an 11 percent increase for STEM majors and a one-third decline in liberal arts majors.

The humanities aren’t the only subjects with challenging demand rates. They are simply unpopular. Society has cultivated a misleading impression of the humanities, concluding prematurely that gaining such a degree will lead to failure disproportionate to all other majors. Another potential reason for academia’s gradual dismissal of the humanities is simply the way the modern psyche is developing. 

Two librarians from the Warrenville Public Library gave their opinions on how “old” classics differed from “new” classics. They affirmed that there is a particular difference between the purposes of the times’ philosophical thoughts. Literature of the 1800s, they said, valued philosophical thinking for its own sake, whereas literature of the 1900s-2000s is concerned with philosophical thinking calling for action. There exists a greater emphasis on the product of action than the product of thought in old literature. For example, social justice is not being argued to derive laws of how social injustice comes to be, but to advocate for it. And although many old literary works argue for social change, analytical observation accompanies them at a level much higher.

This is not to say that people of today do not theorize, but that people of today have less reason to. Generally speaking, it is safe to say that grand philosophies about the unseen laws of the human experience are less common. Thus, the humanities, which are highly dependent on human interpretation, are also less common. 

The modus operandi today is that knowledge is found, not discovered, unless used for a specific purpose, especially for social or financial success. The decline in humanitarian subjects is caused by a national blind eye toward the abstract and a hyperfocus on the material. More commonly than not, the minds of the majority are rampant with the immediate, so the virtue of pondering, reflecting, and cultivating our own thoughts is forgotten about. It is important to note that living in the workings of one’s mind is of its own merit, and although STEM is crucial to the understanding and development of the world, it is not a sole valuable asset. Surely, if we all prioritized abstract thought more, we would also pursue the humanities more.