Just a few months ago, I had the great fortune of being called in for jury duty. I basically sat in a cramped room with a hundred other people who didn’t want to be there either and were likely trying to think of a good reason to be excused. I know what you’re thinking, and yes– it was every bit as exciting and fun as you’d think it’d be. The entire waiting room was filled with people and, because the jury commissioner asked us to put our phones away while we waited for the judge to call us in, we passed the time by talking to those sitting next to us and bonding over our mutual hate for jury duty.
It was during this time that I shared a conversation with the man sitting next to me. We had talked about various things, but, most notably, bowling, bees, and existential crises at the age of 20.
He had asked me, “So you’re in school. What are you studying?” To which I replied, “Literature.” And, not to my surprise, he continued by saying, “Ah! So you want to be a teacher.” Being well rehearsed in this response, I kindly said, “No, not a teacher.” He scoffed, and then said, “I mean, what else can you be? A librarian?”
Now, I’m sure he meant this to be funny instead of offensive, but I realized that this is a common occurrence among those who choose to major in the humanities. In fact, I was more surprised that I wasn’t surprised by his response because I’ve grown so used to it. There seems to be this notion that the only job you can get by majoring in English, philosophy, communication, social science, or the various other humanity degrees is teaching. Many assume that it’s a “waste of tuition money.” You know what’s a waste of money? Paying for printing in the library.
But here’s some valuable insight you can share to all those people who tell you that your degree in the humanities lacks marketable skills.
Take writing for example. Writing is invaluable and will continue to be relevant and necessary in every field. More than that, good writing isn’t something you can achieve by inputting a formula in a calculator and waiting for a computer to prepare the message you want to convey. It comes with years of practice– of learning how to analyze, think critically, read well, and develop ideas. It requires forethought and knowledge, of words and their meanings, of cultural and historical context. You have to consider the audience you are writing for. You have to learn how to blend words and sentences together with coherence and unity in order to make it interesting enough for people to want to read. There are so many factors to be considered.
Some may assume that writing is irrelevant with video blogs coming out and print journalism going out of style, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. Most of the knowledge learned and spread today is due to written works. Politicians, business owners, universities, nearly every industry you can think requires a written component in their field in order to function, and even more, prosper. Writing well, reading well, and critical thinking are all skills that are emphasized in a humanity degree and are components needed to accurately articulate thoughts and ideas.
In addition to that, humanities majors are taught to extend past the barriers of their own nations. With the expansion of businesses and the continued interactions between countries and cultures, we need people who approach situations with a global perspective. Communication majors, linguists, and those familiar with social science and intercultural studies can offer insight for more productive interactions between political leaders, business owners, and a plethora of other careers that prosper from understanding the social climates of various places around the world.
By learning the various customs, traditions, beliefs, and languages of other places, humanities students learn how to appropriately interact with those outside of their own corner of the world. They look at the world with broad lenses that allow them to view society as more than what they find within the confines of their respective locations. This is especially useful in today’s day and age and will continue to be so due to constant intercommunication among nations and their leaders.
And you know what else? The influx of business and stem majors means there’s going to be a need for the humanities in the future. The pendulum always swings back.
Now, you might say, “Via, look at the statistics.”
I’ll be honest and say I have searched up statistics, and all I see are numbers that mean nothing to me. The “unimpressive income of humanities majors” isn’t the reason I chose to major in literature. I chose it because this is what I love. I firmly believe that it is not our choices, but our reaction to our decisions that make us who we are and lead us to where we need to be, and it is because of that, that that data is irrelevant. Those who’ve contributed to those unappealing statistics don’t have to be me, and they don’t have to be you either. Don’t conform to the statistics. Defy them! Where would humans be if they didn’t seek to challenge the odds?
Sure. You can learn how to master Excel in a matter of weeks and read books and watch YouTube videos on the statistics of profit and loss. You can buy Rosetta Stone and learn French, Chinese, or German. But critical thinking, effective communication, and problem solving are skills honed by the humanities. They are at the core of the knowledge that we seek to achieve and these skill sets are not a “waste of money.” They come with time and constant practice and if you aren’t taught to employ them correctly, then you’re not really getting anywhere.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me saying that the humanities are better than any other major out there. Just because I am speaking on behalf of those who have a passion for such studies doesn’t mean I wish to dissuade you from your dream of owning a business, or being an engineer, a math professor, politician, or whatever your heart desires. What I hope to leave you with is the message of value in all knowledge and learning. Nowadays you can’t approach something with one skill. It’s all interdisciplinary
We all need each other.
So the next time you hear jokes about humanity majors wasting time, effort, and money, laugh. Laugh hard and long. Not at the wisecrack of whatever that ignorant person said about your humanity degree, but at the sheer absurdity that there are actually people in the world who correlate the value of knowledge with monetary gain. Because if you’re so worried about money and luxury, then maybe you shouldn’t major in the humanities. Hell, don’t major in anything for that matter. Every field requires a risk and taking chances isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re afraid of the how uncertain the future is with a degree in the humanities, you won’t find security in any other major. We’re all finding our way and we’re all learning as we go. So we might as well do it with a passion.