Why Studying Liberal Arts is Important

Holly Carew '20

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Along with all of the new advancements our society is making in the field of science and technology, students are looking more and more to major in S.T.E.M fields, or science, technology, engineering, and math realm, and fewer and fewer students are seeking to major in liberal arts, such as English, history, and foreign languages.

While this may make sense right now, following the logic that college graduates who major in S.T.E.M fields typically make more money and are generally in higher demand than liberal arts graduates on the job market, but that may not always be the case, and it probably won’t be very soon with recent advancements in artificial intelligence and machine technology, which is why it’s important for people to become educated in the liberal arts.

A common perception most people and schools have is to put more emphasis on S.T.E.M because they believe that is where the future is heading, and that teaching the liberal arts is less important, because jobs in the field “make no money” and “won’t get you anywhere in life”, and because of this, high schools are offering fewer and fewer classes in English, history, and foreign language, resulting in a gigantic decline in people majoring in these subjects as well.

According to a 2018 article by The Atlantic titled “The Humanities Are in Crisis”, “Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s.”

Personally, math and science have never been my strong suit, and I have always liked and been better at subjects such as English or history. Unfortunately, like many other schools in our country, Westborough doesn’t offer many higher level liberal arts classes until junior year, when students can take APUSH and Accelerated English. However, both classes are misrepresented by their perceived difficulty, so much so that most students are too scared to take them. This is clearly not the case with the higher level math or science classes, as shown by the fact that large groups of students willfully take hard classes such as AP Biology or AP Stats, whereas if you take classes like APUSH or AP Lit, you’re seen as crazy and “taking on too much”, even if it’s your only AP class.  Moreover, math classes are leveled starting in third grade, with math olympiad starting in just fourth grade, while the earliest liberal arts class that is leveled is English starting in ninth grade.

Additionally, people who plan on studying liberal arts are often frowned upon as well. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I tell my friends or really anyone who asks that I plan on majoring in something along the lines of English, history, or a foreign language, I am always faced with comments like “Why would you do that?”, “You’ll make no money.”, or “That’s a bad idea, you won’t ever be able to find a job.” One time, I was talking to a friend’s parent at a college fair, and they said “I don’t know what I would do if my kid wanted to be a history major.” I’ve even had a friend tell me that their parents would be angry at them if they majored in the liberal arts. All of these comments, plus many more, are adding to the common misconception that says that skills in the liberal arts are unnecessary and quite frankly, unimportant, which in my opinion, is wrong.

Liberal arts teaches students some of the most critical skills they will need in the workplace. Studying liberal arts teaches you how to think critically and creatively, how to analyze information and how to relate it to larger, overarching ideas. It also teaches you how to communicate, be flexible and adapt to new situations — some of the most valuable skills you can have in an ever-changing, dynamic work environment.

As my mom, an English major who has been successful in high technology, always says: “It doesn’t really matter where you go to school, or what you major in, all that matters is that you are a good communicator, a hard worker and a good co-worker who people want to succeed,” something that studying the liberal arts will teach you.

Especially in our rapidly evolving technological world, people who are educated in the humanities will be more important than ever. Even in a 2013 article by Business Insider, Mark Cuban, a billionaire investor, agrees: “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in ten years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data. And so having someone who is more of a freer thinker.”

All in all, studying the humanities or the liberal arts are much more imperative than what is widely believed. Studying these subjects encourages critical and analytical thinking, and the ability to think freely, something that is one of the most important abilities you can possess, both in life and certainly in the workplace. The Washington Post puts it best in a 2018 article called “Why Liberal Arts and Humanities Are As Important As Engineering” when they say: “Tackling today’s biggest social and technological challenges requires the ability to think critically about their human context, which is something that humanities graduates happen to be best trained to do.”

The fact of the matter is, as The New York Times article entitled “Don’t Panic, Liberal Arts Majors. The Tech World Wants You” says, “When experts start arguing for its [computer science] continued relevance, undergraduates choosing a major will begin to realize that the obscure art of manually punching arcane symbols into keyboards is no longer a safe bet.”, and that is when a degree in the liberal arts will be absolutely essential. Especially with the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence, soon enough there will be no need for people to write software or create code, it can probably write itself. In a world such as that, what the liberal arts bring to the table, human emotion and creation, will hold immeasurable value.

As aforementioned, “one must be able to communicate effectively, read subtle social and emotional cues, make persuasive arguments, adapt quickly to fluid environments, interpret new forms of information while translating them into a compelling narrative and anticipate obstacles and opportunities before they arise” (2018, New York Times) to be able to thrive in the workplace or just in life in general.

In addition, companies, as stated by a 2013 article called “The Dream Employers For Liberal Arts Students” in a quote by Vicki Lynn, senior vice president of client talent strategy and employer branding at Universum, are looking for students who are studying the liberal arts because of their wide skill set and ability to adapt and work anywhere. She says: “Humanities and liberal arts students have such a diverse skill set that they can work at any of these companies, even if some of them are traditionally associated with something like accounting or engineering. There are many positions where liberal arts students can thrive and contribute at these large companies that don’t necessarily spring to mind for them in their job hunt.”

So you can thank the liberal arts for your ability to communicate with others, to be creative, and to think as a free, independent human being, skills we all use every day, and if you were thinking of studying in this field, but have been too worried about what the rest of the world will say, just know that you could be better off in the future.