On the Humanities

A brilliant, brilliant article on the nature of the Humanities in the Chronicle. Thank you, Fie, for the great link.

There is now a push to dispel the myth that everybody needs to go into STEM and that nobody wants to hire people who graduate with BAs in the Humanities. I’m getting interviewed for a podcast about this important new movement tomorrow.

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17 thoughts on “On the Humanities”

  1. You’re most welcome! I linked another article from the same original publication that is in contrast to this article. There were a few good points in the second one, but it was mostly offensive (to me). I’ll leave a link here for ease of use for you and readers. How not to defend the humanities.

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  2. As someone who teaches in STEM, I really really wish not everybody went to STEM. In particular, I wish the people who hate math, who never bothered to learn to manipulate fractions or God forbid do algebra, and who have no interest in any part of the natural world didn’t pick a STEM field because they think a STEM degree magically opens doors. It does not. You actually have to be good at it. What they do is: a) waste money, b) waste time, c) reduce the will to live in their instructors, d) make it very hard for me to teach to the well-prepared and interested students who want to be there because I have to dumb things down to the level where someone who knows nothing and doesn’t care about learning anything can supposedly still learn something. Our best students should get their tuition refunded.

    God, I hate people who have no passion for anything in life. And when you see that in a 19-22-year-old, it’s really fuckin’ depressing. I don’t care what you like and if what you like changes over time. Just like something. LOVE something. Don’t be so perpetually blase. I wanted to learn EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYTHING when I was young; heck, I still do. No, I don’t think they are all clinically depressed. And WTF I grew up in way shittier conditions than any of these kids had.

    (I know I’m posting tangential comments today. It’s that kind of day. And Clarissa’s blog is a home away from home! 🙂

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    1. I don’t understand people without passion either. How is that possible? And yet, I see a lot of students who aren’t really that interested in anything. I even ask them what they like to do. They don’t know. (Or don’t want to tell me? Maybe all they like to do is watch porn.)

      I’m sympathetic about wanting passionate people, who are also competent, in class. I’m kind of tired of English majors who only like to write, but not read, or who only like to read, but can’t write (or speak about what they’re reading).

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    2. And the STEM pedestal isn’t just a conceit in the eyes of deluded students and grant-hungry administrators. Progressive touchy-feely education fad types are also putting STEM on a pedestal and telling us that in the name of Equity and Opportunity we must put a STEM diploma into the hands of every available warm body. If the kids don’t know algebra? Well, you know, be more open-minded, and conceptual, or something.

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      1. Hey, My sister wants to interview you for a podcast on this current fad of pushing everybody into STEM irrespective of whether they need it or not. Tell me if you are interested.

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    3. Amen. It just wastes everyone’s time, including the students’. Although interested students tend to be fine with the couple of pointers the instructor will have time to drop for them (from what I remember of my own college years, and from what my stayed-in-academia-boyfriend told me when I started grilling him about how to cope with unequal classrooms). Xy, you’re in the US, right? Do you guys get a specific 2-or-so hours a week that are for interacting with any students that want more explanations about your class? Because, if you do, and if your students know you do… if they want more detail, they know where to find you, and if they don’t, STEM tends to require less interactivity than literature, so it’s usually fine with us enthusiastic students if you spend 90% of the time on the less enthusiastic ones, drop a few interesting tidbits for the rest of us, then let us know you’re available if we want to discuss something in further detail.

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      1. I do. I actually hold more office hours than usual, especially for lower-level classes with high enrollments (I have 6 hours this semester, over four days). About 80% of those attending office hours struggle, but 20% come so we could discuss higher-level stuff. I also try to throw in tasty nuggets in class for the students who need more challenge, but I can’t do too much because the weaker students get disoriented. It saddens me that those who are ready and eager have to pay and don’t get as challenged at the level they are ready for.

        And don’t even get me started on K-12. There is so much that students should be learning so much better in K-12. I didn’t go through this school system so I can’t tell who’s to blame.

        Do you know that I asked in class if anyone knew what a comma splice was? It’s a class with 80 students and I work at a state flagship. Granted, in STEM, but not a single student could answer.

        I write on the board a lot, so that I can keep the pace at which the students take notes. As I write, I often ask questions such as: should we hyphenate this or not (usually a compound adjective preceding a noun) and they all act like they’d never asked themselves such questions in their lives, like it’s never come up, which is impossible.

        And ‘creative spelling.’ We have in-class tests, where the students need to explain something briefly (a sentence or two). You’d be horrified at the spelling mistakes they manage to make in the span of two sentences and the lack of capitalization and punctuation.

        It’s this universal apathy toward learning, toward the life of the mind, the absence of a desire to better oneself that I don’t understand. Like they are in college as a chore and they will go get a job and live their chore-filled life. Of course that’s depressing! The only cures are: connections with other human beings and expanding one’s mind, but the latter seems to be systematically erased from our society as an option, presumably because cattle is better for capital.

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  3. To your eternal frustration:

    As long as people conflate “getting a job” with “ease of fluidity”, you’ll see people emphasizing STEM degrees as the be-all and end-all of everything.

    Try looking at the proposed point system for Trump’s immigration system. The US doesn’t want humanities grads. There’s a reason certain immigrant groups all run to engineers, doctors and people with CS degrees.

    My cousins’ friend is in Germany on her husband’s computer science job. The only reason she’s employed is because she works for a large German multinational which transferred her (and she has a degree in human resources.)

    Throw in the requirement for many humanities grads to get further advanced education, non-dischargeable debt and not-great networks and you’ll see many students make the gamble (discounting the effect of Dunning Kruger and imposter syndrome) that it is easier to be a mediocre to average STEM grad than a good to great humanities grad to get a job with benefits and a decent starting salary.


    https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.js

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    1. I emigrated to Canada based on the point system. It was transparent, fair, and very helpful. So I’m completely in favor of establishing a point system in the US instead of the insanity that is currently in place.

      Doctors shouldn’t be emigrating at all unless they are fully aware that they’ll have to get an education entirely from scratch. All of the doctors I know who emigrated from Eastern Europe are extremely unhappy because they used to be respectable, successful people, and all of a sudden, the only job they can get is as an orderly. It’s a huge comedown, and they can’t deal.

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      1. I’m not commenting on the fairness of the system. I’m saying that even among people who have no inkling of immigrating, rightly or wrongfully, they perceive more of a nationwide market for STEM majors. With some prominent humanities (and arts) fields the job market is location dependent. And academia is very locked in by area as you know. Publishing, journalism is extremely locale dependent.

        The virtual workplace is offered only to a small number of people as a singular job rather than a patchwork of contracts. And it isn’t offered to humanities majors.

        My cousin with an MIS and MBA can go anywhere. His wife, who is a curator, cannot.

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  4. I liked the article a lot, but here’s my contrarian takeaway – this community of Virgil-reading enthusiasts has been killed away about as much by people like Clarissa or Fie (that is to say, scholars of national literatures) as by anything that STEM or its seedling precursors ever did.

    The main thing that resonated with me in the article is that universities are here to stay because there will always be people who just have a genuine thirst for knowledge and so will build and maintain institutions to support that. I do, however, disagree with the implied distinction between humanities as the sole repository of curiosity and spirited obscurantism; and between ‘STEM fields’ that are all about economic growth, five year plans, and economic considerations. Most people I know who are really good at math, physics, programming, whatever, aren’t into it because a government agency once told them they’ll make an above-average income this way, they’re into it the field itself is fun to play around in.

    And if I were to feel a bit cocky, I’d maybe even ponder out loud if math and physics do not at this point have an associated culture to them that is more far-reaching and uniting than anything the humanities can muster – not even given the current state of universities, but even in principle.

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    1. Fie teaches Virgil and Dante, so we definitely shouldn’t blame her. 🙂 She’s a Shakespearean scholar. And I teach Golden Age, too, just like the article mentions. So we can’t blame me either. 🙂

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  5. I’m not commenting on the fairness of the system. I’m saying that even among people who have no inkling of immigrating, rightly or wrongfully, they perceive more of a nationwide market for STEM majors. With some prominent humanities (and arts) fields the job market is location dependent. And academia is very locked in by area as you know. Publishing, journalism is extremely locale dependent.

    The virtual workplace is offered only to a small number of people as a singular job rather than a patchwork of contracts. And it isn’t offered to humanities majors.

    My cousin with an MIS and MBA can go anywhere. His wife, who is a curator, cannot.

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