Stop hating on the humanities

By Courtney Kaplar ’16

“What are you going to do with that? Are you going to be a teacher?”  These are the questions I get almost every time I tell someone who doesn’t go to a liberal arts school that I plan on double majoring in French and comparative literature. And it drives me insane.

There are, in fact, students interested in studying something other than business, economics or the sciences who do not want to teach. Not that there is absolutely anything wrong with teaching; I just think that people should not automatically assume that because someone is majoring in a humanity-related subject she is going to pursue a teaching career.

Whenever someone asks me my plans for the future, or tells me sarcastically that my studies are “useful” after I tell them my majors, I always feel the need to justify myself. “I’m hoping to go to law school to study both French and American law in order to do corporate contracts.”

I never add that these are my tentative plans, and that maybe I will end up doing something completely different, mostly because I do not want my studies to be judged on what other people think are “real-world” majors or on what I will do with them in the future.

In my mind, what you learn is only as useful as you make it.  Yes, the world needs people to know about economic trends, politics and ways to cure diseases—the list can go on and on—but the world also needs people who know how to write, interpret and create things other than numbers and formulas. If we were all a bunch of business people and doctors, life would be pretty boring. There would not be any art, any culture even. Would we all be reading books about the state of the stock market? 

What I am really trying to get at here is that, even if your major is not one of the most obviously useful majors according to others, it still is important.

The “usefulness” of an area of study is one of society’s silly preconceived notions, sort of how some people believe that journalism is a dying industry because the Internet is now a viable mode of accessing news. Meanwhile, we still need some credited authority to report on stories, and it does not really make a difference if these stories are put on paper or online.

The largest issue raised here is: how do we show that studying humanities is just as important as studying anything else?  The way I see it, we can do almost anything with our degrees. Some see a lack of specialization as a limitation, we view it as an expansion of job opportunites.


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