There was a time, perhaps a couple of decades ago, where the liberal arts – a.k.a. the humanities, dealing with the study of literature, history, philosophy, art, and the like – and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) worked together in harmony. These days, there seems to be a major divide between the two when it comes to college. At least, that’s what a lot of commentators and even politicians believe.
Back in 2014, Barack Obama called into question the usefulness of a liberal arts degree. He caught quite a bit of heat for suggesting that a degree in art history may not provide you with the job opportunities that an education in trade and manufacturing will. Oddly enough, this actually put him on common ground with the Republicans, who have long questioned the usefulness of degrees such as literature and anthropology!
But how right are the critics of an education in liberal arts? Before people even get an opportunity to ask “How do you get a bachelor’s degree?”, they seem to be hounded by such a question. If you feel a bit torn and confused about the whole thing, here are a few points that you should keep in mind:
Manufacturing and Trade Aren’t Dead: So many people out there seem to think that we’ve moved past the need to have so many students doing STEM subjects because there isn’t much career potential in manufacturing and trade. Here’s the thing: Obama wasn’t actually so much criticizing liberal arts as he was criticizing this idea. The fact is, that these are still essential fields in our economies, and fulfilling and lucrative careers are still common in those fields. Don’t dismiss manufacturing and trade as dead fields because they are very much alive and kicking if you know where to look.
Liberal Arts Education Isn’t Just “Training for Starbucks”: An education in the humanities does not doom you to a dead-end job, the way that a lot of people tend to dismiss it. Having said that, there are certainly courses out there that are so steeped in postmodernist denials of reality or objective truth and so much closer to ideological indoctrination rather than education that job prospects after graduation are genuinely lackluster.
But, a degree in philosophy has been shown to get people into well-salaried positions. In fact, the average philosophy major earns more than the average accounting major. As for an English degree, so often mocked by humanities haters, it’s a massive boost for many careers due to the degree showing your ability to read and analyze deeply. Talent in theory and criticism is more useful in business and technology fields than you may think!
And Remember: while Bill Gates has dismissed liberal arts degrees, Steve Jobs has pointed out that his company would never work it if hadn’t been a perfect marriage of STEM and liberal arts.
Remember Part 2: the value of a degree is both overestimated and underrated – it’s the former in a more general sense, but the latter when you take into account oft-disparaged subjects such as those you’ll find in the humanities. At the end of the day, higher education isn’t pointless, nor is it a waste of time – as long as you pursue your education with purpose, you’ll get something out of it.
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