During my dalliance with teaching I once told a high school history class that they should go into STEM. It’s where the jobs are, and it’s a field that desperately needs women I told the primarily female class. This still holds true, but it’s becoming a more and more dangerous platitude.
STEM; Science, Tech, Engineering and Math, are all important fields. We, especially those of us living in the U.S., have gained a lot from them. Space travel, the Pythagorean theorem and silly putty to name a few. But they are increasingly becoming the end all be all of education. The only non-STEM students not looked upon with increasingly askance views are those pursuing business degrees, the most worthless of all higher education degrees. History, political science, English, and other humanities are increasingly becoming to be seen as dead end paths. Not to mention anyone foolish enough to pursue an education in the arts. This is a problem.
The reason behind why STEM has become the go-to area of study for many American’s is fairly simple. It’s where the money is. For both colleges and their students. Grants and funding for college STEM programs have been growing, not to mention the money that professors can bring in through various researches. And with the best jobs in the U.S. rapidly becoming almost solely STEM based, it’s no wonder that people are drawn and pulled toward STEM. But STEM cannot do everything.
STEM education, for the most part, is focused on the memorization of rules and the subsequent application of those rules. Knowing what a drag coefficient is and how to apply that to a real world situation is something that most people who graduated from a STEM program could tell you. The same would apply to understanding and applying the Third law of Thermodynamics or the mathematics behind torque. Being able to do this is an incredibly valuable skill. It is not the only skill that matters though, even if it is starting to seem that way.
The increased commodification of education and the increasing difficulty in finding a well paying job post-college are two of the biggest reasons why the process-based style of STEM education has become so popular. It’s an easy sell. Telling a prospective employer “I can do X,Y, and Z tasks without any extra training” sounds a lot better than “I studied the problems of labor and race in 19th Century America”. But memorizing processes and how to apply them is not a complete education. A Humanities education, when done well, promotes and establishes critical thinking skills, reading comprehension, a broad educational base to work with, and perhaps most importantly, an understanding of, and empathy for, fellow human beings.
It is the sense of empathy that is the Humanities’ most valuable skill. To thrive and excel in the Humanities one must have a deep understanding of the other people around them, not just as objects in a physics, but as living, breathing human beings with their own internal struggles, drives and thoughts. Humanities hones people’s abilities to work with and communicate to those around them. And it is these skills that we must not lose as a country. STEM, for all it’s merits, often works in a person-less zone, either seeing them as end users, or objects that must be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Without a deep understanding of those around us we are doomed to fail. So when someone you know says they’re graduating with a degree in history don’t scoff at them.