Putting a New Focus on the Humanities in the Age of Technology
WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 14 - The study of humanities in the nation's colleges and universities is on the decline. These days, the focus is on technology and the sciences as more students set their sights on what they think will be higher paying jobs when they graduate. But it may not be good for the nation to pay short shrift to those who advocate renewed attention to subjects such as history. And many supporters of liberal arts contend that there are jobs out there for those who seek non-science degrees.
In an effort to encourage more students to opt for the study of humanities-- particularly the study of history-- a new literary award was created last year to entice authors and publishers to produce more books based on historical events, works of fiction, and nonfiction that accurately portray past/present events and personalities in a way that engages young learners.
The goal of the Grateful American Book Prize "is to create an allure for the study of history among kids early on in their education," according to education advocate David Bruce Smith. "If we, as a nation, lose our passion for the past we will ultimately lose our passion for who we are, and what we are capable of doing with our lives. The study of history teaches us how to become better citizens," he says.
Steven Pearlstein is the Robinson Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University. He also writes for the Washington Post, which recently published his article headlined "Meet the parents who won't let their children study literature."
It seems that more and more parents are concerned about what kinds of jobs might or might not be available for their degree-seeking children as they apply for entry into an institution of higher learning. "I certainly got that sense when I buttonholed students and parents at an information session this spring for high school seniors who had been accepted to Mason," Pearlstein wrote.
Professor Pearlstein concluded in his article that "in the wake of the Great Recession, the number of degrees in the core humanities disciplines -- English, history, philosophy - has fallen sharply. In the mid-1960s, they represented as much as 17 percent of degrees conferred; now that figure is just over 6 percent."
Smith noted what he called an important statistic that Pearlstein cited in his article from a study conducted at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. The Georgetown researchers found that students who graduated with humanities and liberal arts degrees in 2011 and 2012 fared equally well as those with degrees in computer science and math when it came to finding a job. The unemployment rate for the humanities majors was 8.4 percent; for the technology majors, it stood at 8.3 percent.
As Pearlstein put it in his article: "So here's what I'd say to parents who, despite all the evidence, still believe that liberal arts majors waste four years contemplating the meaning of life: At least those passionate kids won't make the mistake of confusing the meaning of life with maximizing lifetime income."