Why Studying the Humanities Matters

STEM education is, of course, important, but let’s not lose sight of why we keep the classics in our curriculum.

The Humanities Define Who We Are

Broken apart, “humanities” is rooted–and defined by–the study of humans: our history, grammar, and behavior. What is takes to be human, from logic to the fruits of history, can be found within the humanities. In the report “The Humanities in American Life,” The 1980 United States Rockefeller Commission took the essence of humanities and illuminated its place in our modern world:

“Through the humanities we reflect on the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world where irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason.” (Dodd)

By studying art, music, literature, and all the rest, we find the expressions of those before us, never starting from scratch or having to build a life alone.


The Humanities Help Us Improve

In today’s world, in which scientific and educational capital are becoming increasingly valuable, we see an emphasis placed on the courses and classes that build up to the lifelong skills in fields that benefit the workplace: business, economics, law, STEM–each invaluable to society but impersonal to the individual. While these subjects address skills that fit in our society’s workplace, the humanities stress the expressions and discoveries of those before us. The STEM fields and the humanities are often seen as foes at odds with each other, both vying for class time, budget, and relevance in our everyday lives when, in reality, both sets of subjects are necessary to students’ growth. Every book we read, test we take, and even instrument we learn (Locker) has lasting effects on the ways we learn. Each day, through libraries and internet-sites, vast sums of human knowledge and studies grow. Music is made, personal discoveries are found. Every day, the humanities make us better. 

Future Generations Depend on Our Study of the Humanities

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the often-quoted George Santayana said–and it will always ring true. Society depends on economics and politics to exist, creating fair and just societies. Education based primarily on the practicality of a career diminishes the individuality in our culture and inhibts opportunities for creativity to flourish. Books become merely a chore at school, collecting dust on coffee tables at home. Instruments may be heard only on streaming Internet websites, maybe played for a class or two in high school then forgotten. All bits of humanity outside of work fade, and the humanities are relegated to entertainment on the television and Internet. Our future generations depend  on how we embrace the humanities today. 
Dodd, A. W. “The Humanities in American Life. Report of the Commission on the Humanities. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980.” NASSP Bulletin 65.443 (1981): 117-18. Web.
Locker, Melissa. “This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain.” Time. Time, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 20 June 2016.
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