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Are the Humanities Dead?

kiddiekiddie Registered User Posts: 2,655 Senior Member
edited November 2013 in Parents Forum

Replies to: Are the Humanities Dead?

  • NJSueNJSue Registered User Posts: 2,789 Senior Member
    “Both inside the humanities and outside, people feel that the intellectual firepower in the universities is in the sciences, that the important issues that people of all sorts care about, like inequality and climate change, are being addressed not in the English departments,” said Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor who writes about higher education.

    People like Delbanco are part of the problem. At the university level, the humanities have been corrupted by excessive ideological consciousness and identity politics. They have been carved into little intellectual ghettoes in a misguided attempt to ape the research structure of the sciences, with poor results. No wonder many students are bored with the humanities and don't see their relevance. Many professors were trained in the era of continental theory, for which the very category of "humanities" as a general study of world literary cultures and human nature was labeled a bourgeois myth. Now we are reaping what we have sown.
  • PeriwinklePeriwinkle Registered User Posts: 3,500 Senior Member
    Not dead, just resting.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,234 Senior Member
    The loss of a canon (diversity is good but causes chaos in humanities if taken too far), the cost of college/loans, and recession are, I think, all factors.

    But there are still students passionate about literature, theater, art history, music, philosophy...who are able to get jobs due to the discipline and skills gained, or go on to grad or professional school just fine.

    The culture of the current generation seems practical and success oriented (I do get tired of the word "career," how about "job"?). But there are good reasons for that. I am just glad that some still follow humanities as majors; those four years may be the only time to explore them.
  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom Registered User Posts: 3,631 Senior Member
    Our society now looks at college as trade school. Ten minutes on this forum will show that most parents and kids use job prospects as a primary criteria for determining which college to attend and which subject to major in. So long as this mindset prevails, the humanities will suffer.
  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 8,075 Senior Member
    And oddly enough, the huge corporations I've worked for seem to be taking the opposite tack. Give me an entry level professional hire who can read critically, write a coherent three paragraph memo, can understand why China's economic development differs from India (without reading Wikipedia)... boy, are these skills prized!

    The best finance person I ever hired had a PhD in history. (We have a finance bootcamp where we teach the basics in two weeks). The best investor relations person I ever hired had a BA in psychology. Ah, the good old days....
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 10,164 Senior Member
    Princeton, in an effort to recruit more humanities students, offers a program for high school students with a strong demonstrated interest in humanities — an idea Stanford, too, adopted last year.

    Humanities is a HOOK! Mini-stampede of CC kids to apply to Princeton as Classical Lit majors?
  • ConsolationConsolation Registered User Posts: 21,643 Senior Member
    No. Next question?
  • poetgrlpoetgrl Registered User Posts: 13,334 Senior Member
    Choatiemom, I agree we now have a trade school mindset prevailing about college for the student. However, I would say that as long as so many students are graduating with so much debt into such a difficult economy, this can only be expected to continue and to intensify.

    The kids have to PAY for this education, and education is so expensive these days it is actually almost necessary for many students to think this way in order to be able to justify the cost to themselves.

    The other mindset, while, to me, preferable, can only stand as long as college is affordable. College is no longer affordable, even at the state university level, in many/most states, these days.
  • rualumrualum Registered User Posts: 2,210 Senior Member
    Wow, finance bootcamp in 2 weeks. Very interesting.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,990 Senior Member
    ChoatieMom wrote:
    Our society now looks at college as trade school.

    This is not new. Most bachelor's degrees were granted in pre-professional majors even decades ago, although the share of liberal arts majors declined from 49.9% to 41.0% from 1971 to 2010. The share of humanities majors has remained roughly the same at around 17% over the years, except for a dip in the 1980s. The decline in percentage of liberal arts majors at the bachelor's degree level has mainly been in the social studies and sciences.

    Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2009-10

    At an even higher level, if "college is not job training" (a common mantra around these forums), how many people would spend any money to attend college? Even liberal arts major bachelor's degrees without major-specific job prospects are seen as being an upgrade in job prospects over a high school diploma.
  • DunboyneDunboyne Registered User Posts: 1,159 Senior Member
    Many do not understand that the study of humanities offers skills that will help them sort out values, conflicting issues and fundamental philosophical questions, said Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College. “We have failed to make the case that those skills are as essential to engineers and scientists and businessmen as to philosophy professors.”

    I like post #2 by NJSue. I think she hit upon the issue in the quote. The research structure of the sciences “pays off”, bottom line, and the humanities are trying to follow suit in a quest for money and relevance. The humanities used to produce Renaissance folk, as in people with broad interests. That’s a difficult task these days because of specialization. I wonder how much Humanities students feel like they have a grasp of the bigger picture now, as their profs and course material are so specialized. Departments are engaged in an arms race to out-number the competition with subject matter specialists and courses. It’s the antithesis of what the humanities are supposed to be about.

    “Degree inflation” and declining job prospects certainly doesn’t help. A bachelor’s degree isn’t worth what it used to be; a Humanities BA even less. So kids are looking for value, and more and more that means STEM. Back to the quote, the whole field needs to do a much better job at defining the payoff. In fact, they need to use that term as much as possible, the “payoff”, because at 50K+ how can you blame anyone for looking at a bachelor’s degree in financial terms?

    But I had to laugh at the plight of Anthony Grafton, Princeton history professor, who sometimes feels “like a newspaper comic strip character whose face is getting smaller and smaller.”
  • californiaaacaliforniaaa Registered User Posts: 1,915 Senior Member
    rualum ,

    There is no miracle in "2 week finance bootcamp". They do exist and they are successful. The devil is in detail, as usual.

    I saw such hiring many-man years ago. They hire Ph.D. students, mainly foreigners, with strong backgrounds in math. Many foreigners have very solid math skills. Keep in mind that economics is placed in Humanities dept in many universities. Couple it with the fact, that it is easier to get Ph.D. position in humanities than in math. Universities may have bright Ph.Ds in Economics (Humanities, by definition of some universities), that excel in math.
  • californiaaacaliforniaaa Registered User Posts: 1,915 Senior Member
    I think humanities shall adopt an open policy, when they teach a la carte, not for a major. They should open courses just for fun, as pass/non pass. This way many students (and professional adults) may enjoy taking a class or two.

    For example, I would love an opportunity to take class in Phycology. However, I won't suggest my D. to major in Phycology.
  • Niquii77Niquii77 Registered User Posts: 10,104 Senior Member
    ^ I legit looked up what phycology was.

    No. Humanities is not dead.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,990 Senior Member
    Dunboyne wrote:
    “Degree inflation” and declining job prospects certainly doesn’t help. A bachelor’s degree isn’t worth what it used to be; a Humanities BA even less. So kids are looking for value, and more and more that means STEM.

    (As far as major-specific job prospects go, more like TEM, not STEM...)

    Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2009-10 indicates that the percentage of bachelor's degrees in science has been slowly declining, while CS and engineering became much more popular in the 1980s but have been slowly declining since then.

    Other pre-professional majors increased in popularity greatly in the 1980s and have held steady (business) or slowly increased (other majors) since then.
This discussion has been closed.