At many holiday gatherings, I find myself answering the same questions over and over again. Adults politely inquire, “Where do you go to school? How do you like it?” And then the worst… “What’s your major?” I know where this is going. I smile, and reply that I’m pursuing majors in English and history, and nine times out of ten I get the response “Oh…so you want to teach?”
Let me clarify: There is nothing wrong with education as a career path. Teachers don’t get enough respect as it is. But I do find it troublesome how people automatically assume that because my majors are in the humanities, that outside of education they are somehow useless.
What’s the point of an academic subject which can only be taught, but never applied?
After learning that I do not plan on teaching in the future, most adults will probe further. “What would you like to do after college?” they ask. I sometimes try to be evasive by saying, “Oh you know, grad school.” That satisfies most, but the brave will continue by asking, “What comes after grad school?” I know they seem interested, but they really won’t like the answer they’re about to hear.
I tell them that I’d like to work as an editor, and then most adults will inevitably give me a lecture detailing the fall of the book and printed media industry. The future is in online media, they tell me — therefore we don’t need editors. They seem to think that their small chat will have changed my mind, and I’ll instead graduate with an engineering degree — anything useful.
First of all, any form of media used in the future will still need editing. So I’m not too worried about my job being eliminated any time in the near future. But more importantly, can’t they just let me be an optimistic college student? Yes, I know my dreams may not be entirely realistic. But I’m 20 years old and I’m paying $46,000 a year to go to a university I can’t afford — throw me a bone.
I’m clearly not attending Lawrence for its practicality.
Isn’t that the point of a liberal arts education — to study a broad field of interests, and to enjoy the process of learning for learning’s sake? You can pursue a wide variety of careers with a degree in any of the humanities. And that’s the beauty of it: They don’t pigeon-hole you into any one career. You can explore your interests, apply your knowledge of one field to work in another.
Just because the humanities aren’t valued by all in our increasingly professionalized world doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be studied. The study of English or history may not directly solve our state’s budget problems, but that does not make them less important than math or economics.
The humanities, after all, are subjects which deal with humans. Isn’t it worthwhile to understand human history, religion, language and expression? The humanities may not have the same practical value as math or science — what they do have is immeasurable cultural value. Think how much our generation has benefited from the moral lessons taught by J.K. Rowling in the “Harry Potter” series. Maybe literature won’t solve our political problems, but it sure as hell makes life more bearable.