Why the humanities matter now more than ever
“We need Homer,” writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, in his recent article, “The End of College as We Knew It?”. Homer, the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, two epic poems widely studied in core college curricula, is according to Bruni, just as important as the doctors and scientists keeping our civilization afloat throughout this pandemic. He continues, “We need writers, philosophers, historians. They’ll be the ones to chart the social, cultural and political challenges of this pandemic — and of all the other dynamics that have pushed the United States so harrowingly close to the edge. In terms of restoring faith in the American project and reseeding common ground, they’re beyond essential.”
Colleges have been among the major institutions to flounder from consequences of the pandemic, leading to an existential crisis. The college identity is now up in the air. With revenue, budget and resource reductions, colleges are forced to either imperfectly adapt the college experience into an online one, or crumble under the pressure. Students are changing their attitudes, too. What used to be for some an opportunity for personal as well as academic exploration and growth, has now become a question of practicality and job-market preparedness. But this pandemic is raising exactly those big questions that the great philosophers and writers of human history mulled over for centuries.
In our tech and science-focused world, interest in humanities degrees has rapidly declined. While tech and health care jobs are better paid thanks to research grants, humanities jobs are scarce and generally poorly paid. That’s certainly something to consider given the new financial realities of many students. However, that doesn’t mean that the humanities has lost its value in our society.
The humanities, and especially the study of languages, literature and sociology, is a way to find human connection over time. Especially in our recent times marked by division and violence, Bruni responds by writing, “A vaccine for the coronavirus won’t inoculate anyone against the ideological arrogance, conspiracy theories and other internet-abetted passions and prejudices that drive Americans apart. But the perspective, discernment and skepticism that a liberal arts education can nurture just might.”
It’s this “emotional intelligence” that has a special value in our society, which is unfortunately, not usually remunerated with a high paycheck. But losing the humanities and a liberal arts education could have devastating results. The empathy, tolerance, and maturity gained from studying the arts and human history cannot be gained by science alone. That’s why, even in this uncertain time, we can find solace in the great classics, in trusting the advice of our ancestors that dealt with struggles just as powerful as our own.
Navigating the college process in our current crisis is a challenge. If your student is struggling, give us a call to schedule a free college counseling consultation today!
Neal Schwartz, Owner
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