Thank God, someone wrote a cogent, well-informed and supported piece about this (so I don’t have to).
If you want to be a one dimensional moron, go for the money and a tech or highly specialized job. If you want to be capable of critical thinking/discernment, able to express yourself with the weight of history, the arts (all of them) behind you to persuasively advance your opinions, if you want to rise to the top echelons as an executive calling the shots and directing the course of major international corporations, if you want to have the odds stacked in your favor of making a “difference?” Major in the humanities (or any one of them).
I did and sailed up the ladder to the top of a billion dollar corporation with degrees in Literature as my creds, skills etc behind me by the age of 38. It’s not a secret, it’s everywhere, but a widespread myopia and lack of investigating the available public info has spawned a sadly misdirected generation that is sailing into a middle age of confusion and disappointment at the fruits of their education and efforts.
Why major in humanities? Not just for a good job — for a good life.
Mark Edmundson teaches English at the University of Virginia. His new book, “Why Teach?,” comes out this month.
Humanities professors have come up with a seemingly foolproof defense against those who trash degrees in, say, English literature or philosophy as wasted tuition dollars, one-way tickets to unemployment. Oh no, we say — the humanities prepare students to succeed in the working world just as well as all those alleged practical majors, maybe even better.
We offer tools of thought. We teach our students to understand and analyze complex ideas. We help them develop powers of expression, written and verbal. The lengthy essays we assign enhance their capacity to do independent work. At our best, we teach them how to reason — and reasoning undergirds every successful professional project.
In the short term, such a defense may seem effective. But it is dead wrong.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, a distinguished humanities scholar recently wrote with pride about a student of his, a classics major, who wrote brilliantly on Spinoza yet plans to become a military surgeon. A recent article in Business Insider offered “11 Reasons to Ignore the Haters and Major in the Humanities.” For example: You’ll be able to do things machines can’t do in a service economy. You’ll learn to explain and sell an idea. You’ll stand out in the crowd in the coming STEM glut. In the same publication, Bracken Darrell, the chief executive of Logitech, talked about why he loves hiring English majors: “The best CEOs and leaders are extremely good writers and have this ability to articulate and verbalize what they’re thinking.”
Some of my colleagues are getting quite aggressive about this line of reasoning. “I think we actually do a better job getting people ready for law school and business than the people in economics do,” a good friend who teaches humanities told me not long ago.
It seems that there’s no problem, then. Want success? Come on in, our tent flap is open.
But the humanities are not about success. They’re about questioning success — and every important social value. Socrates taught us this, and we shouldn’t forget it. Sure, someone who studies literature or philosophy is learning to think clearly and write well. But those skills are means to an end. That end, as Plato said, is learning how to live one’s life. “This discussion is not about any chance question,” Plato’s Socrates says in “The Republic,” “but about the way one should live.”
That’s what’s at the heart of the humanities — informed, thoughtful dialogue about the way we ought to conduct life. This dialogue honors no pieties: All positions are debatable; all values are up for discussion. Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks for the spirit of the humanities in “Self-Reliance” when he says that we “must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” He will not accept what the world calls “good” without consideration: He’ll look into it as Socrates did and see if it actually is good. When Montaigne doubts received opinion and asks himself what he really knows and what he does not, he is acting in the spirit of the humanities. “Que sais-Je?” or “What do I know?” was his motto.
Socrates, who probably concentrates the spirit of the humanities better than anyone, spent his time rambling around Athens asking people if they thought they were living virtuous lives. He believed that his city was getting proud and lazy, like an overfed thoroughbred horse, and that it needed him, the stinging gadfly, to wake it up. The Athenians had to ask themselves if the lives they were leading really were good. Socrates didn’t help them work their way to success; he helped them work their way to insight and virtue. ….[click link below to read the rest]