Fritzie -


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Are too few students focusing on Humanities?

I read yesterday that fewer than 8% of college students now major in humanities. The most popular major is Business Administration and then all the STEM fields.

Does this seem like a sensible mix, or has attention swung too heavily in one direction?

While I cannot now find the article, please let this interesting piece serve in its place:

Finally I came upon the report that motivated my question.

  • Jun 24 2013: I majored in science,but now I spent so much time to read and on language learning.I think science and humanity both help me a lot in my life.
  • Jun 24 2013: There has just been a new survey put out: That most students who major in Bus. Admit, are less likely to get a job in that field when they graduate. Same also applies to STEM, do in large part to the market place being flooded with grads in these field.
    I get the impression, it's not about love of the chosen field, it's all about the money!
    My Major was: Geography & cartography with a special interest in Marine Bio. I never thought once about what I would make in those fields (money wise), but then again, I started university later in life.
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      Jun 24 2013: I think the attention people give to employment opportunities depends in part on how difficult it is to get a job at the time people graduate or how much flexibility a person has not to have a job.
  • Jul 6 2013: I think it's because the humanities are not seen as very profitable.
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    Jun 29 2013: "Are too few students focusing on the Humanities?" In my opinion, most likely.

    Perhaps its a sign of how society sees little value (business potential) in the arts and culture.

    Could there be correlation between the lack of diversity in college students studies and the current status of the economy?
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    Jun 29 2013: Fritzie, One of my favorite talks is Liz Coleman's call to reinvent Liberal Arts education. She makes valid and interesting points.

    I may not be as concerned about the number of student not majoring in the Humanities as I am their not be exposed at all to any of them. As I have mentioned many times the last great STEM push was during the Eisenhour administration and it was also for national pride not for the sake of education. We appear to go full throttle or full stop in these areas.

    My vote would be that we have went to heavy in one direction.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Jun 29 2013: I think Edward voices a similar position- that humanities education may be overlooked in the programs of study of other areas.
  • Jun 27 2013: First, let me quote the passage by Summit: "As described by Summit, the emphasis on character building, lifelong learning, and interdisciplinary study of the new ‘studia humanitatis’ would better prepare students for the ever evolving 21st century workplace." My discussion will follow this line about humanities program in academic institutions.
    First the "character building and lifelong learning" should start at the secondary education because these CHARACTERS SHOULD BE ACQUIRED BEFORE THE ENTRY TO COLLEGE EDUCATION. When I was in a middle school in Shanghai, China, we had classes in Chinese classic literature, the materials in the course consisted mainly teachings in Confucianism, where all the contents were morality, social justice, education and proper political activities. It was not told like a Shakespeare drama, rather, involved mostly narratives in the history of Confucius and his doctrine. Even though these narratives were a little difficult to understand, but compared to Shakespeare, they were not involved in very complicated human emotions in the drama by the latter. so the former is more suitable for the secondary edu.
    The next crucial point is that "better prepare the students (in humanities) for the ever-evolving 21st century workplace." Besides the great needs of STEM graduates, the changing demographics and treatment of abnormal conditions also play a role of the needs for humanity experts. The expanding elderly population need more medical attention, prevention of cardiovascular diseases that require more drugs and medical devices or artificial organ replacement. We also need biotechnology, stem cell research and nanotechnology by STEMs. Let's look at childhood autism, the treatment protocols have rapidly shifted from psychological evaluation to drug and testing therapy.
    The robots in factories don't need psychotherapy.
    In summary, we all need humanity education. But the needs for professional workers with humanities skills are gradually decreased.
  • Jun 26 2013: This is a crucial question..
    WIthout a solid grounding in humanities, people are less able to recognize and resist political lies, statistical manipulation and social and economic stupidity like the recent austerity programs that have financially crippled so many European countries.
    People who don't know history and who don't recognize empty emotional rhetoric can feel justified in committing physical brutality like the Trayvon Martin murder, and social brutality like stripping the elderly of social security and pensions they have paid for and minorities of the right to vote.
    In America local school boards, town councils and cities have been systematically taken over by questionable religious organizations that rewrite textbooks for their own purposes, like teaching their theory of "intelligent design" instead of evolution.
    In Arizona, local politics lead to taxpayer funding of religious indoctrination at private schools, which is clearly unconstitutional.
    Without training in critical thinking our political, cultural, scientific and religious history is easily twisted to serve business, religious or political ends. Witness the on-going attack against unions, which brought hard earned prosperity to millions. Even our diets have been carefully manipulated to benefit agriculture in the now disproven and discarded food pyramid.

    Our laws, our morality, our patriotic spirit are constantly wielded against us and unless we learn how to evaluate legislation, advertising and political speech, we are at the mercy of who ever has the microphone.

    I'm afraid the recent "reasonable" sounding push for scientific and technological training without broader education will make it easier to control people, probably not for their benefit.
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      Jun 26 2013: You raise the important point that education is not only about preparing people for an economic role but also for a civic role.
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    Jun 26 2013: Hello. I think attention has swung too heavily into the direction of MONEY... Humanities require a special sensibility, a critical perspective on societies and culture, reflexiveness... I studied sociology because I like it and that is the more important thing for me. I am working as a waiter - but whats the problem? I've got the same dignity and valour as anyone working anything socialy considered as "superior". Besides what better place for a student of sociolgy than the field of action itself? It is a full time unpayed but rewarded job for life! Anyone can drug his consciousness with pretentions and inflate his ego with images of greatness. These are just delusions. In fact it is all relative and subjective, all a cultural and virtual invention...

    Fortunetely I have observed how going after money doesn't bring much but a false happiness... Anyway, thats a different topic though. Concluding: human and social sciences/knowledges are related to altruism and comprehension, theres very little gain for an individual there. You must desire to serve some higher and benigne purpose if you are to study these sciences. That is my opinion.
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    Jun 25 2013: Humanities have no place in a capitalistic society... At least that's what the capitalists seem to think over and over. All they want to do here (Sweden) is to continue to decrease the funding for anything humanities related. All you really need in life is math skill and an excel sheet...

    But YES, too few indeed!
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      Jun 25 2013: Would you please make the case for your position?
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        Jun 25 2013: Yes of course, sorry for that Fritzie.

        "The humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture, using methods that are prImarily analytical, critical, or speculative, and having a significant historical element, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences"

        So we have only 8% in the US who are analyzing the effects of all the STEM students work. And we get 92% not understanding what or more importantly WHY they are doing the things they are doing.

        I think that the attention has definitely swung too heavily towards the STEM and it should be equalized (not sure what a good quota would be though but the current seems too low).

        It's such a shame that so few see the use in understanding our society...
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    Jun 24 2013: I am soon, a year hopefully, going to attend a college in a STEM field (more focused on the STE). The reason humanities didn't appeal to me is lack of practicality. We can study human culture and make statistics and ideas on it, but how is that going to help us move forward. I think more students would be interested in humanities-related majors, if it was taught in school differently. I think we should not focus or be taught to remember specific dates and people, but focus on those people's ideas. At the very most, maybe a century will be specific enough for a date just for kicks and historical context. We should learn their goals and results of their ideas, so that we can apply them in the future. That, for me at least, would make me more inclined to have a humanities major.
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      Jun 24 2013: I think you are right that two factors loom large in discouraging study of humanities. One is the perception of employment prospects. The other is poor teaching or irrelevant focus in the first courses to which students are exposed. Who wants to spend lots of time memorizing things? Some courses in humanities take this approach. Other's are brilliantly taught.
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        Jun 24 2013: Exactly. Do you know of any particuar classes or topics within humanities that would most likely adhere to my interests?
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          Jun 24 2013: This will be very school-specific. At the institution you attend, you can look at course evaluations to get insight into what students thought of the course and instructor.

          I will take as an example a couple of TED speakers I know teach at Harvard. Steven Pinker teaches psychology and courses related to language. Listen to his TED talk and you can guess he would teach an engaging class. But that doesn't mean there may not be weak psychology teachers as well.

          Listen to Michael Sandel on TED. His course on Justice is one of the most popular courses at Harvard among those majoring in other subjects.

          I encouraged my daughters to seek out the most engaging professors. It can be more important than the topic.
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          Jun 24 2013: I used to be a teacher - so I thought this would be easy! I reviewed all of your posts on TED. There isn't much about you on your profile, but that much is also true for me, so I have to skip over that.

          First, my advice would be to get as much college level coursework in while you are still in high school. Second, watch as many TED videos as you possibly can. Watch the videos you like at least twice. Third, Look up the TED speaker on Wikipedia and learn more about what they study. Maybe watch some of their other videos on Youtube. Just those three steps might be enough to answer your question as to what kind of 'Humanities' you might be interested in.

          The fourth thing I'd suggest you do is READ! READING is absolutely the best thing you can do to prepare for college. WHY? Because when you get there, your professors will make you read & read & read & read! You'll get sick of it! When you go to class, they will ask you questions about what you have read! And they won't be nice about it if you obviously have either NOT done the reading, or you just skimmed over it (like I used to do in High School all the time). So for those subjects you like, get some college-level books and READ!

          Many of those you can find on the internet ( is the largest collection of free books on the web). I don't know if you are male or female. But I assume by the beard on your avatar that you are male. No young man can go wrong by reading the works of Arthur Conan Doyle or Jules Verne or H.G. Wells or Rudyard Kipling. All 4 have biographies on Wikipedia. Read the bios. Their work is now public domain, so you can download their books for free. Read them. Try some of the short stories first that were first published in magazines. Short stories go by faster.

          And that much is just what you can do on the internet. Wait until you GO to the Library! Now THAT is really cool!
  • Jun 24 2013: It's a matter of students’ take on "going to college".

    I assume, for the past generations, going to college means study more with deep understanding of what one is going to major.

    But now, I'd be lying if I say it's—going to college—unrelated to getting employed and earning a lot of money.

    Students tend to think going to college means just getting professionally trained as a prepared one whom employers are likely to choose most.

    Considering this kind of circumstance, focusing on humanities might seem unrealistic, far from being successful as a pre-job-seeker.

    However, looking back, what has been supporting us is the result of studying humanities, if you look into the deep inside of the civilization and its progress that has been made so far.

    It’s some people’s shallow concern for ‘too few students focusing on Humanities’ that makes it sound naïve.

    I don’t think the ‘attention has swung too heavily in one direction.’
    Perhaps it’s the natural reaction that comes from our deepest concern for our future.
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    Jun 24 2013: "The question is whether we lose something by the dwindling of study of the humanities. "

    The answer is no, not because of the lack of potential value in the Humanities as a field of study, but because they are being taught so poorly in so many cases. I deeply regret my major in English Literature now because I feel it was not taught properly, as in the sense of explaining the deeper implications of the works. I learned that PoCo lit is a reflection of British and Colonial Literature but not how this impacts the way that Post-Colonial nations see themselves.
    The way I was taught reflected more of a cookie-cutter mentality of absorb the buzzwords and then spit them out again to get an A.

    What is definitely more difficult to teach is the higher-order meaning of these works... WHY we still read Shakespeare and what that says about us as a culture...WHY we like stories where the villian is devious and intelligent, but ultimately loses.

    I found my classes in History slightly more relevant, because we were able to discuss higher order meaning and apply the past to the future.

    I regret my "breadth requirement" course in Cog. Sci, not because I disliked it, but rather because I LOVED it so much. A course about how we think...What could be more useful than THAT... I disliked it because I had put it off until the end of Third Year and when I took it, I realised that I was wasting time studying Milton and Poe and all that, but I was too far invested in terms of time and money to start over in a Cog.Neuro Sci program. The Taste of Honey Syndrome, I guess.
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      Jun 24 2013: I appreciate your replying as a former Humanities major. Several major universities are modifying humanities curricula right now to improve their quality and relevance to today's students.
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    Jun 24 2013: Trend is not any different in my country. Economics rules , marketability decides .
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    Jun 24 2013: I wanted to do major in English (which is known as bachelors in India) at one point of my life. I was and am an avid reader of English literature, arts, cinema and I just loved it so much that later on I got involved in theater. But making out a career through technical study was a better and safer choice and I took that course.
    I think that reality didn't change that much even now in my country. STEM fields, medicine and engineering are still sought after career options.
    I think the attention always remained on those fields for last 5/6 decades. Unless humanities offer easier and safer career options this scenario is not expected to change either.
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      Jun 24 2013: What made me pose the question is that we often have conversations about how to encourage people to go into STEM fields, as if everyone is going into Humanities.

      In the data I analyzed yesterday for the US only, it looked to me as if the bachelors degrees conferred are about 25% Business Administration, 25% sciences, 25% social sciences, and 25% arts, communications, and humanities.

      So I think when we talk about the urgency of encouraging students to select STEM fields, it may also be fruitful to ask where we want them to shift from that seem to be over-emphasized in the big picture. If there is a public interest in steering more students to STEM, are we trying to steer students away from having selected business? Social sciences? Arts and humanities?

      Because we also hear, for example, Kenneth Robinson arguing that education should give greater attention to the Arts.
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        Jun 24 2013: I follow Kenneth Robinson with interest too.
        I think 25% in sciences is not considered good enough to sustain a competitive edge over other countries as far as technological application is concerned. Your statistics does not make it clear about TEM but I have a feeling that is included in that 25%. So overall, the focus of education in the US is more on non STEM fields, it looks. If that is the case, encouraging students towards STEM fields may mean going back to drawing boards for the US and make a fresh technological leap.
        This emphasis and what Sir Kenneth argues do not sync in my opinion. Robinson challenges the very basis of education (education to produce experts/managers) and it's a radical idea which would require a paradigm shift in social, economical, political order in a sense.
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          Jun 24 2013: I got my numbers by adding up across categories, so I can say, yes, I added technology, engineering, and math into the science category.
  • Jul 7 2013: too few students really are in the humanities, primarily because studying STEM subjects lead to more jobs.
  • Jul 6 2013: My Son
  • Jul 6 2013: If I may be so bold, I am not sure this is the correct question. The question should be no matter what major, are we producing well rounded individuals which includes the study of humanities. Let me point you to Harvey Mudd College which roughly 800 students all undergraduate and has 7 majors, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, Engineering,and Individual Studies. The school requires that the students take 1/3 of their courses in the non-technical fields. Many students have minor in the humanities or even a second major. It was interesting to see a student that graduated with a double major, Engineering and a foreign language.
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      Jul 6 2013: If you read the responses here, quite a number have argued that there are not too few people majoring in humanities but that there is a need for a solid grounding in humanities as part of every degree.

      Are you, or were you, at Harvey Mudd, by chance?
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    Jul 5 2013: Contemporaries of my daughters who majored in humanities or social studies often headed to law school or business school from there and then on into the economy. Not all jobs involve technical skills, though there seems to be greater demand for graduates who have them.
  • Jul 5 2013: Business Administration and then all the STEM fields is for students to find a job and contribute to the economy. Humanities are for students (and non-students) to find a hobby and improve their personal lives.
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    Jul 5 2013: Finally, I came again upon the report that motivated my question:
  • Gar K

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    Jul 5 2013: My own utopian vision is that all students in university should be exposed to at least an introductory-level course in most major subjects in the sciences and humanities, including biology, physics, chemistry, geology, computer science, literature, psychology, sociology, theatre, music, and fine arts.

    I think the scientists and engineers would be wiser, more well-rounded, and possibly more imaginative.
    And the arts students would be more technically able, and more able to apply technological ideas to creative or humanistic study.
    And the business students might be more poised to contribute their marketing skills etc. for greater societal and interpersonal good, rather than just being focused on wealth accumulation.
    And another benefit is that more arts and sciences students could meet each other, which possibly could lead to less polarization (even on a political level) , and to more interesting dialog.
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      Jul 5 2013: I don't think this is utopian, as long as some can be covered together in a course. For example, a big ideas in science course could include some of the most important ideas in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. A humanities course might cover big themes in literature, philosophy, and the arts.
  • Jul 1 2013: I wish it was easier to find groups dedicated to Humanities and culture outside a college setting I don't really need the grade and projects I just want information if I'm taking an exploring world religion class (i got very frustrated with an exploring world religion teacher this last semester but enjoyed and did well in my cultural anthropology class.
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      Jul 1 2013: What are you looking for in such a group? Are you looking to read and discuss works with others? To discuss ideas specific to humanities and culture?

      Are you looking for something like Art+Culture? Or the Great Books Foundation discussion groups?

      Is an online education format like Coursera too college-like for you? You can audit a course, all for free, without doing any assignments and still engage with hundreds or thousands of students on the discussion board.

      I have taken a course through Coursera, and to me the discussion forum in particular does not feel at all like a college discussion setting. You might check them out!
  • Jun 29 2013: personally i'm more concerned about business admin being the most popular. it's no surprise the economy has gone the way it has with all those people aspiring achieve nothing more than the ability to push paper around inflating profits until some group loses everything, rather than learning about how nature works and actually making something and moving society forward.
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    Jun 29 2013: Majors are chosen based upon their perceived effectiveness at maximizing the probability of landing a $teady job. We have a parade of youthful billionaires not one of which majored in Humanities. Wouldn't a "sensible mix"be one where all college graduates entered the workplace with a well-rounded education including the Humanities?
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      Jun 29 2013: I certainly think graduates should have a well-rounded education including the humanities.
      Doesn't Steven Jobs describe in his TED talk that his study of an area in Humanities- ancient scripts, I believe- inspired his idea for the Apple computer? Of course, he did not major in anything.
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    Jun 28 2013: I am thinking that 8 to 10% is probably a touch high. The subjects that make up the "humanities" have been with us ... for many years and little has change over the years. A few dedicated scholars to continue the review and instruction in the humanities is all that is needed.
    Humanities should be an integral part of every course of study: T. E. or D as well as all the sciences and business courses and whatever I left out.
  • Jun 27 2013: The pendulum swinging away from the humanities has created a populace of quick-fix non-thinkers. All common sense disappears as does the wisdom of long-range planning/thought. Instead we're a generation of quick-fixers who are doing more longterm harm than good!
  • Jun 26 2013: Not judging by their employment rate. What a corporate idea eh? I'm surprised at myself. I like the humanities. But seriously Fritze. Last summer you were all about kids learning about economics weren't you.....or was that me....can't remember. Teachers need to talk eh?
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      Jun 26 2013: I think economics is a valuable subject that is often not offered in secondary school and not required in college.. I do not remember whether you also feel economics is important, but that is not the focus of this thread.

      I think humanities is a valuable area as well, though I majored in math.

      I have an interest in what makes valuable curriculum at the secondary and post-secondary level. This question responds to a report I read this week about colleges revamping their humanities curricula.
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        Jun 29 2013: Hey Fritzie,

        "This question responds to a report I read this week about colleges revamping their humanities curricula." Are colleges revamping their humanities programs in a good way or in a bad way?

        And have you posted a link the report you read about? I'm interested in reading it. Thanks.
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        Jun 29 2013: Thank you Fritzie!
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    Jun 26 2013: I have taken absolutely no business courses in college. I sometimes wonder if it is all about the easiest way to slowly put the screws to others that goes on in these courses. Someone stop my mind from wondering. Has business really become complicated enough to have a major in college? Well, I guess so. Yes, too heavily in one direction. Is business not common sense any longer? Maybe marketing has gone overboard? yeah, yeah? To make money by promoting money. What is next?
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      Jun 26 2013: I have never taken a business course either and do not know whether the schools I attended had undergraduate business majors. People I knew who were planning careers in business majored in economics.

      Your best information will come from looking online at the course catalogue for your closest public university or business college and to see what they describe there.

      My guess is you will find an interdiscilinary course of study that includes courses in economics, finance, psychology, marketing, maybe accounting, maybe computer science, statistical methods, maybe operations research, maybe business law, and organization theory. There may be elective courses in subjects like entrepreneurship and international business.

      If you do some checking, share what you find.
  • Jun 26 2013: I could not have learned the practical, hands-on aspects of radionuclide use in molecular biology through "self-study". Thus, I could not become qualified to do a a great deal of molecular biology research through "self study". Likewise for human pathogen research. Who dies if a single person without any political or economic influence misunderstands the intricacies of the relationship of the Republic to the Laws, as enlightened by readings of the Crito? Who dies if some amateur biologist-wannabe cooks up a batch of Aspergillus flavus or Vibrio cholerae in his kitchen and doesn't maintain proper biohazard controls? What are the odds of either operation ending in serious injury or death? I'm not even talking about malice, just simple errors made by the enthusiastic but uneducated.

    The thing about "STEM" (oh, but I do so LOATHE that atrocious construction) vs. humanities is that the risk of harm from a lone dimwit screwing up in the humanities is almost always going to be far lower than the risk of harm from a lone dimwit screwing up in "STEM".
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      Jun 26 2013: I certainly agree that self-study alone is a highly unreliable way of reaching competency in STEM fields. The cost of incompetence is part of the reason employers demand training for employees hired to such positions.
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    Jun 26 2013: Heaven knows simply graduating from college, even if your family is well off, is a tough thing to do. Rapid rate of return on investment gets in the way of real success all to often. If your poor, it's ten times as hard. The answer to your question is an unequivocal yes! It is one of the greatest tragedies of our education system. We've failed to seamlessly blend the humanities with science, and math. For those that had the good fortune to watch an old BBC/PBS show called (The Day The Universe Changed) they'll understand. Scientific, industrial ,social, political,and military evolution is a vast network of (serendipitous circumstance, and opportunity). It is seized upon by the educated, the aware, the trained, and the disciplined observer / opportunist. To navigate this intricate web of connections, and opportunities requires knowledge of the innermost realm of human consciousness, as well as disciplined analysis. Arts and the humanities provide the treasure map. Great advances are always blurry in the beginning. Discovery, and invention lie in the fuzzy world between the obvious, and the mysterious. Music art, poetry,and literature provide the window. It is the compass for those seeking to break out of convention and move our civilization and consciousness forward. We have enough bean counters, and technocrats, we need more visionaries, and disciplined professional dreamers.
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      Jun 26 2013: Thanks for sharing your perspective.
  • Jun 26 2013: It's not sensible, but the current state of affairs at any given instant is not and never shall be sensible. This is because we do not make long-term, cultural decisions. We make short-term, personal decisions that are or appear to be pertinent to our personal needs. Over the span of time, things even out, but at any instant, everything is a total mess. It's how societies have always worked to some extent, and the more freedom individuals have (i.e., the less dictatorial and tyrannical the society is), the more chaotic and messed up any instant snapshot will be.

    I will say though, that over the long run, the last thing we need is an even greater proportion of whiny baristas with humanities degrees and their demands for other people to throw money at them merely because they are erudite.
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      Jun 26 2013: You make a good point that a snapshot does not typically reveal a complex story or even a trend.You are right that no one cares if the barista is erudite.

      I wonder whether part of what is going on in the minds of employers is that those with STEM concentrations actually are no less strong in humanities-type skills than those who focused in humanities. Or more precisely, it may not be hard to find STEM graduates who are every bit as well grounded in writing and critical thinking as humanities graduates? By chance I read this morning that 40% of Harvard students are STEM majors. They will also know how to write and have grounding in humanities through their mandatory coursework as part of breadth requirements. This is only one school, but it is possibly a common story.

      Or is there an assumption or observation that STEM skills are much harder to pick up at a high level outside of school than humanities-type skills beyond the basic universal requirements? In other words, STEM is the university's relative advantage over self-study?

      If either of these cases holds, it is not that employers do not value humanities-type skills but that they can get those easily in their STEM hires.
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      Jun 26 2013: Let us not confuse the syrupy, heady world of frivolity, self indulgence, ego, snobbery, and ostentatious buffoonery, that entertains the elite, and the absurdly wealthy, with the Humanities.
      They are not the same! One is a subset of the other, but doesn't define the term. True measure of the humanities value to civilization is an understanding of our origins, and potential future. In order to know where your going, and avoid backtracking it's necessary to know where you came from. The humanities are the link with the past, and the window to the future. One can't fully understand history without understanding the art, music, and literature of the times. History in turn provides the most valuable lesson for avoiding pitfalls in the future. Any inventor, entrepreneur, or great thinker will tell you. The big new ideas most often come from some faint, esoteric, inspiration, or spark while encountering some aspect of art, music, or literature. The dollar cost to us all, is "always there"! It's simply hidden in the morass of missed opportunities, and squandered talent.
      The engineer, or scientist that has the eureka moment, most often experiences it while engaged in the humanities, or savoring their residual affects. Absence of the humanities leads to stagnation, backwardness, and mediocrity. It is most definitely not a frivolous waste of money private or public. It's also measurable.
      • Jun 26 2013: Let us not confuse the muddle-headed nonsense that leads to the logical fallacy of exclusion of the middle with the question of how much formal education in humanities society really needs.

        If "eureka moments" come while indulging in the humanities, and it is these that matter, then we really need no more than 8% of college students studying, since this will be sufficient to provide appropriate grounding in humanities for those "eureka moments". Could anyone point out where it has been claimed that we ought to abolish the humanities, altogether? Please quote, specifically, wherein anyone has advocated abolition of formal study of the humanities.

        If anything, the infamously dead-end career prospect of so many who indulged themselves in the humanities speaks volumes at how badly humanities are taught. After all, if they truly are such a monumental source of inspiration for "inventors, entrepreneurs, and great thinkers", those who devoted their major study to humanities should be the most remarkable of "inventors, entrepreneurs, and great thinkers", but there seems to be a paucity of such people. Instead, so much effort in the humanities is devoted to narcissistic navel-gazing or one-upmanship over esoteric social theories that nobody ever bothers to empirically test.

        The ascent of modern medicine, for example, over medieval "medicine" was, in part, because the authoritarian, theory-first, approach to truth was finally rejected. It did not matter that "the Classics" made certain claims. One had to empirically test those claims. One could debate the "subtext" of Galen all week long and never make any progress at all in treating disease.

        If anything has failed the humanities, it is the academic establishment of and within the humanities, itself, that is the greatest failure. It has become primarily a desert of sterile scholasticism with occasional outbursts of strident dogmatism.
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          Jun 26 2013: Sorry pardner that seemed a little incoherent to me. It would appear you failed to understand the first part of my point. The humanities and the study of them has little to do with the lofty tweed jacket land of academic snobbery. It has to do with leading edge thought, and invention. For Those born into a life of privilege, exposure to the humanities is integrated into their upbringing, simply by virtue of their exposure to travel, museums,painting literature, sculpture, architecture,performance and all that it represents. They posses a huge professional advantage. Look at the early Catholic Church. The wealthy clergy, and their rigid demand for religious conformity, were nearly the sole patrons of art in the middle ages. You quickly learn about the danger of religious zealotry controlling the message. For the illiterate masses, the iconic propaganda of popes, and cardinals was the only message, and why western civilization stagnated for 700 years. Humanities should be a passion for a student. If not, then they belong somewhere else. Be an engineer by all means! Without exposure to, and an understanding of the humanities, it is far less likely that you will achieve "greatness". You most likely will be a mediocre get along technocrat, that will never rise above the bland, and common. Look at the pass time of great chemists, physics professors,and scientists, and engineers of all sorts. I'd venture to say most have a secret passion for some form of art , or history that enriches their prowess as professionals in their daily pursuits. We aren't talking about finger painting class at summer camp here. We are talking about understanding the deepest reality of our existence. "That will never be found purely through rigid scientific measurement alone."
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    Jun 26 2013: In The Netherlands only 10 percent are focusing on scientific disciplines and it shows. I tried business administration and I am now doing psychology (bachelor) and computer science (master).

    Psychology: 450 people
    Business administration: 400 people
    Business Informatics (bachelor): 40 people
    Computer Science (master): 100 people (note: this includes the international students as well)

    I don't know the numbers of the humanity programs here (probably around or lower than 40). But these ratios aren't uncommon here. So saying people should focus on the humanities tackles half the problem.
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      Jun 26 2013: Psychology is an enormously popular major here as well and has been for at least fifty years. People are naturally intrigued by human behavior.

      People study this area despite the fact that unemployment among those who have only a bachelors degree is high.
  • Jun 26 2013: Attention swings in the direction that serves the individual best. If studying humanity could get everyone who studied it a 80k or more paying job field then everyone would study it but if it cannot do that then it's worthless to the majority and so the answer to your question is no.
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    Jun 24 2013: Only an (humble) idea: What about if we provide them an adequate substratum about Humanities, before they develope their Business A, etc. studies? It seems something strange? Or difficult? In my opinion they'll gain and improve very much.
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      Jun 24 2013: Typically colleges do have what are called "breadth requirements" to expose students to various components of a broad education.
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        Jun 24 2013: True. however, in my experience, the requirements are of 1-2 courses outside your field of study. Certainly not enough to give you any real insight into that alternate field and, again from my experience, these classes were looked at as annoying little day trips away from what the student was really interested in, in the case of my friens in Non-Humanities degree programs.
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          Jun 24 2013: I am more accustomed to needing to take about eight outside courses rather than a couple. This may be different in different places. In addition there are typically writing course requirements.
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      Jun 24 2013: Lots of colleges do not have minors. These data were not reported in the information about majors.
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          Jun 24 2013: A little known fact, I think, is that community-minded people flag comments and moderators delete them often before the person to whom it is a response even has seen it. So I never saw yours.

          It is very gracious of you to apologize. I can tell you find the subject interesting.
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    Jun 24 2013: From

    Of the top 10, highest earning college majors, the Top 4 are ENGINEERING disciplines. Computer science is 5th. The next 5 are: Nursing, Economics, Finance, Accounting & Information Systems.

    Employers are DEFINITELY looking for those STEM skills. And what I have offered here about Mathematics is, in and of itself, a BIG factor in that! It might be the BIGGEST factor in that!
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      Jun 24 2013: I have a degree in math and have taught math at several levels.. The popularity of STEM and Business Admin definitely is connected to employment prospects.
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        Jun 24 2013: And let's be honest, students feel the need to get the most education in their field possible....and The Humanities just aren't the way into industry, frankly.
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          Jun 24 2013: This is one reason I like the idea of breadth requirements rather than complete choice of which courses to take.
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    Jun 24 2013: This is from and it has been updated this month! These are the WORST paying college majors according to one source, in the U.S.A.! In the 30+ years since I got MY DEGREE, not much has changed. This is pretty much identical to what they were telling us back in the 1970s.

    10. Music
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 9.2%.
    9. Film Video and Photographic Arts
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 12.9%.
    8. Liberal Arts
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 9.2%.
    7. Psychology
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 7.6%.
    6. Philosophy/Religious Studies
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 10.8%.
    5. Social Work
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 6.6%.
    4. Fine Arts
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 12.6%.
    3. Physical Fitness / Parks Recreation
    Starting Salary: $30,000/Unemployment: 8.3%.
    2. Anthropology / Archaeology
    Starting Salary: $28,000./unemployment: 10.5%.
    1. Drama / Theater
    Starting Salary: $26,000/Unemployment: 7.8%.
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    Jun 24 2013: Fritz, do you make a simple division of humanities and sciences? I was at my local junior college looking at the student newspaper in June, and it listed all the soon-to-graduate students' names. About half were listed as getting a degree in "humanities," or what do they call it, an Associate of Arts (about 200 people), and half in "sciences," is that an Associate of Science? Where does Business Admin fall, I would slightly guess that it is a humanity.

    I probably tend to be equaniminous, I would think majors wax and wane in popularity, if it tilts too far one way it'll tilt back eventually. I really think that even if someone majors in business or math they can still be very interested in the humanities, my brother is an electrical engineer but also excellent painter/photographer.
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      Jun 24 2013: Every degree has "breadth" requirements associated with it.
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        Jun 24 2013: "The question is whether we lose something by the dwindling of study of the humanities." I think that Colleges & Universities need to force the issue. Too few college graduates have the writing skills they need. Too few have the background needed in Political Science/Civics to really understand how our government works. Too few have the critical skills in logic and factual analysis. In particular, college graduates need to know how to evaluate critically, a political argument or a philosophical argument. Too many w/a B.S. or B.A. or even a B.B.A. lack important skills. The solution may be either broadening the list of "Required Courses" and/or requiring a test of critical reading & writing skills prior to graduation.

        I see that here on TED sometimes. I will use myself as an example here. AOL published the figures I quote here. But how reliable are they? They fit with my own (dated) experience. And they do seem to be reflected in similar lists on other web sites. Specifically, how good is this data in steering a college freshman into a productive major? There is no clear answer. And if they choose a STEM major, will they suffer a deficit in the skill areas I mention in my paragraph above?
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          Jun 24 2013: Thank you for this valuable comment. I asked this question because so often we focus on how great it would be to have more of something and don't consider what we lose when we make the substitution.

          To make good choices, we are best served by considering both.
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    Jun 24 2013: I find myself believing that, although I have a Bachelor's Degree in the Humanities, I'd probably have done better for myself & my family if I'd majored in a STEM subject like Math! The Humanities are very important. That is the heart of culture & tradition in our world. But there are other issues (like Global Warming & renewable, non-polluting energy sources) that MUST get all the attention we can give them right now!

    I think that if we spent 1/3 of the day teaching MATH (like we teach reading in the lower grades), that we might just turn around many of the problems that are a plague to our economy and society these days.

    My Dad was a science teacher back in the early 1960s. Back then, the U.S.A. suffered from a deep inferiority complex! We were number two. And the goal of going to the Moon (as set by JFK) was critical in proving to ourselves that we were at least the equal of the USSR in technology and Science. They beat us with Sputnik. They beat us with Yuri Gagarin and manned orbital space flight. In those Cold War, post-Korean conflict years . . . my Dad was really scared that the Russians had the U.S.A. whipped! & THAT was a STEM issue!

    With the Moon as a goal, the Government poured in the money to get young people educated in STEM skills. Since 20 July 1969 - it's all been budget cuts! Not-so-much on STEM!

    I had to get much older before I began to SEE for myself how important Math is to all of society. As our society becomes more technologically advanced, we need MORE people who are BETTER EDUCATED in Math! For sure we do! There are too many problems challenges headed our way that can only be overcome with STEM skills! Too few of us have those skills right now. Too few!
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      Jun 24 2013: This question is specifically about college, not k12. Do you think college students should spend one third of their time on math?
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        Jun 24 2013: I will give you a very good example of what I am talking about: Quantum Mechanics. From what I understand, the Higher Order Mathematics that underpins Quantum Mechanics has revolutionized Physics/Chemistry. Cosmology is just what the talking-heads are yapping about. The real revolution lies in the detailed re-examination of everything that we THOUGHT we knew about both subjects.

        Now here is the real kicker - Biology/Genetics. That same Higher Order Mathematics that underpins Quantum Mechanics, is now starting a revolution in our understanding of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology. Neuroscience is another area. Quantum Mechanics is key in Information preservation. We now have a powerful tool with which to understand the Human Brain. My guess is that other fields will be impacted by this new set of analysis tools in the decades to come.

        But all this Science hinges on the mastery of just ONE SUBJECT: MATH! If you get the MATH -- you cannot imagine the opportunities that are available to you. I actually heard one Departmental Chair/Chief University Professor in his field say: "If you GET this kind of Math - we'll give you a full scholarship to come study w/us!" And his field was Marine Biology!

        I know there will be dissenting opinions. I welcome those because I like being right at the end of the day. If I am still WRONG in my thinking by NOON, that means I definitely need HELP. So everyone please tell me if you think I am wrong about this!
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          Jun 24 2013: As I wrote elsewhere, I have never regretted getting my undergraduate degree in mathematics. This is not the question at hand, however.

          The question is whether we lose something by the dwindling of study of the humanities.