The Importance of Humanities in School

As far back as I can remember I have always loved my humanities classes. From social studies to English to music to art; if it involved some type of creativity, I was drawn to it like a moth to light. I grew up taking piano, dance, clarinet, singing, and guitar lessons, submitting my writing to local newspapers, and reading up on Pocahontas and the Titanic. As I entered high school, my recognition of the importance of humanities in school continued to develop. I took an active role in organizations such as Model United Nations and School Newspaper, jumped at the opportunity to take classes which discussed politics, religion, and philosophy, and spent hours upon hours in the school art room. So, when it came time for me to choose a major in college it seemed natural to pick within the humanities. What I wasn’t expecting was the backlash and number of, “what are you going to do with that” comments that I received.

These comments weren’t just limited to my family (which still insists that computer engineering is my calling); sometimes they came from complete strangers. Despite having a steady spot on the Dean’s List, the minute I told an accounting major that my major was history I was met with an immediate look of disapproval. Suddenly, something that I had always enjoyed and succeeded at made me second class. Meanwhile, I wrote between 20-40 pages in papers and read, on average, a book or two weekly. Yet somehow, because I wasn’t going to school for engineering, communications, computer science, or business management, my major still was laughable.

I was shocked, no flabbergasted. I attended school in Fairfax, Virginia on the outskirts of Washington DC. In my opinion I was in good company majoring in history along with Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Joe Biden, Elena Kagan, Carly Fiorina (president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard), Ben Silverman (co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio), Samuel Palmisano (CEO of IBM), Steve Carell, Conan O’Brien, H.G. Wells, Carl Sandberg, and so on. But that’s when it hit me: much of our country has completely abandoned the idea of the humanities being a respectable field and it’s reflected in our classrooms.

humanitiesA recent study shows that students on average rank social studies, art, and English at the bottom of most useful subjects and math, science, and technology at the top. This attitude is reflected in the in the Department of Education Common Core Standards which places a much larger emphasis on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineer, and mathematics) than the humanities. These core standards have been implemented into more than 14,000 public school districts causing over 71% of elementary school teachers across the nation to report that they have decreased the time they spend developing written language skills and humanities to focus on the STEM areas. This shift in favor of the sciences has caused the percentage of college students who major in a humanities field to drop from 17% in 1967 to only 8% today.

In a society that puts math and science on a pedestal while treating the humanities like an ugly step-child, what reward does studying the humanities have to a child? Research has proven that there are tons. First, according to the University of California, students who are introduced to musical training at an early age, specifically piano instruction, have statistically higher abstract reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science than those students introduced to computer instruction at the same age. Students who are introduced to balanced curriculum environments have stronger verbal and written communication skills. Those who take courses in music and arts statistically score 53 points higher on their SAT than those with no arts participation. The top two reasons why students academically fail out of college after their first semester are poor writing skills and the inability to keep up with the reading; skills that a strong humanities curriculum reinforce and develop. These are skills that students can develop by reading frequently at home or working with a tutor individually.

Not to mention, 90 percent of corporate executives say that strong verbal and written communication skills are a non-negotiable in an employee. 75 percent of the same executives say that a lack of ethical decision making is a deal-breaker in the hiring process and 70 percent say that they seek creative an innovative thinkers – all skills developed by the humanities.