The Daily Aztec

Humanities are crucial to nation

by Staff

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Randy Wilde, Staff Columnist

In today’s uncertain and volatile economic climate, the prospect of being forced into the real world and landing your first job can be utterly terrifying. Students and their parents are searching for a degree that will directly prepare them for a career. For this reason, departments such as math, science, information systems and engineering are favored, the logic being they are more likely to prepare a student for entering a specific industry. Humanities, on the other hand, are often dismissed as academic fluff.

Well guess what? That “fluff” will most likely be exactly what employers are looking for. Humanities programs foster critical thinking and communicative skills sought after by nearly all employers. More importantly, well-rounded students of humanities keep our society and democracy healthy. Generalized higher education beyond vocational training is not a luxury or privilege of the elite, it is a fundamental right that all students should have an equal opportunity to access.

I’m not saying that job training and sciences are not as important. For broader society, they are just as vital. But we absolutely need both cultural and vocational education, so it is immensely troubling to see one so trivialized in comparison to the other.

As states search frantically for fat to trim from their budgets, education is often a major target. Humanities departments have suffered particularly. The State University of New York at Albany announced on Oct. 1 that the entire departments of French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater were going to be wiped out. Since then, a wave of fear that departments may be in danger has swept across the nation’s educators.

The shift is visible here as well. At San Diego State, business / marketing is king. According to the College Board website, it is by far the university’s largest major, accounting for 21 percent of students. The broad categories of social sciences and liberal arts represent only 17 percent combined.

But you don’t have to be a business major to get a job. Creativity, adaptability, oral and written communication, analysis, researching; all of these skills have two things in common: Employers love them and they are part of the core learning process of a degree in liberal arts. Yes, a traditional career path degree will give you more specific preparation for a job, but that might not be your best strategy.

With only a very limited and specialized skill set, an economic shift at the expense of your profession could leave you high and dry. However, a program akin to liberal arts teaches you skills that apply almost universally and will prepare you for a wide variety of career paths. A versatile worker is less vulnerable to the whims of an unstable economy.

However, preparing young people for a specific career is not the sole purpose of education. In a perfect world, a university degree would represent the growth of a young person into a more intelligent, responsible and understanding member of society. The business world desperately needs a double dose of ethics and perspective. I would love to see more influence from social sciences penetrate the fields of economics and business.

It’s not just the money shakers who could use an injection of humanities-oriented thinking. At a time when voter apathy threatens to delegitimize our democracy, teaching history, political science and civics to our youth is crucial for fostering responsible and active citizens.

Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago summed it up perfectly: “If we cut the humanities, our nation will be the loser, both economically and politically.” As individuals and as citizens, we must keep this “fluffy” side of education around. So don’t scoff at the social sciences or liberal arts majors, they aren’t excess fat. They are the backbone of a well-rounded and moral nation.

—Randy Wilde is an international security and conflict resolution junior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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