When the economic climate of insecurity looms, students and their parents often prioritise earning a living over deepening their understanding of their lives and larger questions of meaning.
The fundamental materialism of the Thatcher philosophy – that what matters is what you can buy and sell – has taken hold to such an extent that even in times of crisis, when people are struggling to make ends meet, the lure of studying subjects like science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) remains strong.
This is because Stem subjects are seen as a surefire way to get a job and earn a good salary. In contrast, humanities subjects such as history, English or philosophy are often seen as less practical and therefore less valuable.
But this narrow view of education misses the point. Humanities subjects are not just about reading books or analysing texts – they offer a way of understanding the world and our place. They can help us make sense of the chaos and confusion of times like these and equip us with the critical thinking skills we need to navigate our way
According to a recent report from the British Academy, studying humanities can also lead to “improved employment prospects, civic engagement and social cohesion”. In other words, it’s not just about getting a job – it’s about being a well-rounded, engaged and thoughtful citizen.
Stefan Haulin, head of learning and research at the R SA, agrees. “The humanities equip us with the critical thinking skills that are so important in an age of fake news and disinformation,” he said.
“We need to be able to question assumptions, think laterally and challenge received wisdom. These are precisely the skills that a study of the humanities develops.”
So if you’re considering your options for further study, don’t be put off by the idea that humanities subjects are less practical or valuable than Stem subjects. They may not lead to a job in Silicon Valley, but they could help you make sense of our strange and confusing world – and that, surely, is worth something.
What do you think? Should we prioritise Stem subjects over humanities? Or is the study of humanities just as important in times of crisis? Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts.
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