Soft sciences matter as much as ever

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, June 27, 2013

A report released last week bears out what many educators have been predicting: Amid rising college tuition, increased global economic competition and a job market that disproportionately rewards graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, students are seeking degrees in what they and, indeed, many in our nation view as lucrative business and hard-science disciplines. The study is from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, on which I serve.

Some institutions have responded by cutting budgets in the arts and humanities and directing those funds elsewhere. That's the wrong thing to do. The humanities -- the study of languages, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, comparative religion, ethics, social sciences -- and the arts are vital to our future. We should be investing more funds, more time and more expertise, not less, into these endeavors.

What detractors of the "soft" subjects miss is that the arts and humanities provide an essential framework and context for understanding the wider world. Studying the humanities strengthens the ability to communicate and work with others. It allows students to develop broad intellectual and cultural understanding; it nurtures creativity and deepens participation in public discourse and modern democracy.

Without citizens whose reading, writing, speaking and analytical skills are top-notch, our society as a whole falters. Without artists, sociologists, English majors and political theorists -- along with engineers and scientists -- to envision what the future looks like, that exciting potential will never be realized. It takes intelligence, passion, imagination and an understanding of what has come before to be a visionary leader. Arts and humanities studies impart these critical life skills.

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