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Are the Humanities Doomed?

Started by Hibush, May 17, 2019, 05:55:23 PM

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marshwiggle

Quote from: ciao_yall on May 26, 2019, 03:41:16 PM
I don't get it. If I were an upper-division or grad student I would be very annoyed if I were being taught by an adjunct. For my Master's I wasn't paying much attention, but for my EdD I was searching for dissertation advisors mentors.

When I was an undergrad, they put the tenured faculty member with the most complaints teaching only upper-level and grad courses where there was a captive audience and where they didn't have to face hundreds of complaining students. So basically assigning less competent teachers to upper level courses is probably kind of universal. (And sadly it rewards bad teaching by confining the worst teachers to small classes in their own narrow areas of interest.)
It takes so little to be above average.

mamselle

Unless you're in Poli Sci or an MPP program and the "adjunct" is the former governor of your state...or the deposed last king of a place on a different continent...

M.
Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Reprove not a scorner, lest they hate thee: rebuke the wise, and they will love thee.

Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.

spork

But if operational costs at tiny, struggling colleges are so gosh darn important, why does this still happen?

Quote from: marshwiggle on May 27, 2019, 05:39:30 AM
Quote from: ciao_yall on May 26, 2019, 03:41:16 PM
I don't get it. If I were an upper-division or grad student I would be very annoyed if I were being taught by an adjunct. For my Master's I wasn't paying much attention, but for my EdD I was searching for dissertation advisors mentors.

When I was an undergrad, they put the tenured faculty member with the most complaints teaching only upper-level and grad courses where there was a captive audience and where they didn't have to face hundreds of complaining students. So basically assigning less competent teachers to upper level courses is probably kind of universal. (And sadly it rewards bad teaching by confining the worst teachers to small classes in their own narrow areas of interest.)
It's terrible writing, used to obfuscate the fact that the authors actually have nothing to say.

polly_mer

#18
Quote from: marshwiggle on May 22, 2019, 08:38:33 AM
Quote from: SLAC_Prof on May 22, 2019, 08:08:30 AM

This is exactly what I've seen happen since 2009: cultural, familial, and peer pressures have combined to convince too many 17-year-olds that a STEM major is the only way to avoid poverty, which is both patently ridiculous and a gross misdirection of the interests and talents of a great many students.


Honest question: Are the media stories about humanities graduates being baristas and UBER drivers part of the problem, for perpetuating the poverty myth, or are they part of the solution for suggesting employment options that don't directly depend on a specific degree? Since most journalists probably have some sort of humanities background, they ought to be sympathetic.

Those media stories are definitely part of the problem.  Far more useful as part of the solution would be steady streams of stories of people doing interesting and useful things in careers that many of us don't know exist and that require a college education, but not a specific degree.

On a discussion somewhere in the past yearish, someone pointed out that the impression from many sources is only a handful of jobs exist in the US: teacher, lawyer, doctor, police officer, social worker, nurse, wait staff/barista, and scientist.  Aspiring college students with minimal social capital will pick one of those jobs and choose the closely associated major.  Some students are picking based on interest, but often that's most interesting or appealing from that short list instead of starting from knowledge areas that are intrinsically interesting and then figuring out what the options are for paid employment in those areas or how to get a paid employment job that will mesh nicely with an interest area. 

Having minimal social capital is often corollated with a strong sense of moving away from a well-known situation*  and a vague sense of moving towards something else**.  That was definitely my experience doing advising and interacting with the Career Services Office as we tried to get students with minimal social capital to have their college experience pay off in terms of launching into a good next step.  The students would state lofty goals, but be shocked at what was required to meet those goals and were more willing to drop out of college than change major to something better in line with what they wanted to do all day. 

I spent a lot of time convincing students that a completed degree in English, philosophy, art, music, or history is worth more to their lives and future job prospects than an uncompleted STEM degree.  I then had to role-play with those students so they could convince their parents.  The role-play often involving looking at the real jobs available in the area and pointing out that many middle-class jobs just required a college degree and that the, say, technician job one can get with a BS in chemistry likely involves moving across country, doing math every day, and pays the same $35k right out of school that many of the jobs they didn't even know existed do.  Being able to show them how to get paid internships for the summer to try out some of these previously-unknown jobs was often a key selling point.

To return to the media stories, a common complaint in the comments for Slate -- and The Atlantic when it still had comments -- was how narrow a worldview the writers had and how little awareness of the wide world of work available in the US trickled into their articles.  The journalists may have studied the humanities, but their personal experience tends to have been at elite institutions so their friends and families are still heavy on teacher/professor/dean/principal/superintendent, doctor, and lawyer with the addition of writer and entrepreneur.

As the demographics at the non-elite institutions continue to shift with more of the student body having very little social capital, the problems will continue of having a significant fraction of students who are a combination of academically underprepared, personally undermotivated for the academic college experience, and very likely with complicated lives where working to support themselves and their families is a higher priority than studying hard in classes.  People who see college as a ticket punch tend to not be looking for education, even in their majors.

More disheartening is that the more the individual lived experience in K-12 was a ticket punch that didn't pay off in a noticeably better life in any fashion, the harder the sell is that college will pay off in a better life, even though those are the people most likely to benefit from a college education.  Overcoming the steady stream of evidence with periodic infusions of good information is an uphill battle for all of us.  Almost no one has the neighborhood cautionary tale of the BS in engineering coming back to the neighborhood and taking the same job that Uncle said he could get the new HS grad right out of high school.  However, most neighborhoods have at least one of those personal examples of someone who went to college, majored in something that doesn't lead to a particular career, and is now at Uncle's job working next to others in the HS class who have several years experience and are then making more money.

No one remembers the handful of people who went off to college and did other interesting things unless they really did become doctors or high-priced lawyers, but "everyone" sees Shawn working that HS-degree-only job with that BA.

* Mental dialogue: I don't want to working that string of minimum wage jobs like all the adults in my family where you work hard every single day and yet money is still so tight.  I don't want to be tied to the one factory/mine/company in town and then get laid off like the other adults in my family and then just be screwed and unable to move or get another job.

** Mental dialogue: I'll be a teacher and help the old neighborhood just like my favorite teacher who helped me get on the college path; I'm not greedy like the lawyers; I'll have a nice middle class wage and a pension in my old age. 

I am tired of being poor.  I will go to law school and work 80+h weeks to retire at 35.  I won't do anything criminal to get ahead, but I will work my ass off to avoid being poor.  I'll go back to school after I retire and take some of the interesting classes.
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

Hegemony

Polly, this is very helpful.  I am just starting to work with students on the subject of careers, and this describes many of the students to a T.

polly_mer

#20
I spent several years where nearly all my advising load was entering first-year students who were majoring in pre-med/pre-physical therapy or some other one-off STEM who were deemed likely to need advising into a different major as those students encountered the realities that Hibush mentions.  The ones who made it through that first year tended to be handed off to my colleagues who were actually in the relevant STEM fields to shepherd the remaining students through the process.

Part of that reality was talking with students and getting them to change to something that aligned with their interests and was a good path forward.  The hard part was to get students to own their interests and believe that good lives can be had on many paths.  That often meant pointing out that a 2.01 average for a grudgingly-earned business degree from an undistinguished college while working a minimum wage job with no advancement possibilities is far less useful than a 3.5 in English with a couple paid-at-more-than-minimum-wage internships in local businesses to try out jobs, get some experience on the resume, and start a network of people who want people they know to succeed.  Don't tell my previous employer, but more than once, I pulled up offerings from community colleges and vo-tech institutions to help students see they could have a middle-class life in the rural area with a one-year certificate or an apprenticeship in the trades and leave college entirely as non-academic-minded folks at this point in their lives.

I also did a lot of pointing out that a happy English/philosophy/art/history major who has the energy left to engage with student groups and do interesting research papers will a) have something to put on a resume that will make employers notice and b) have interesting things to talk about during interviews in addition to having a much more pleasant college experience.  A compelling argument that often took multiple visits to sink in was that competition for the good jobs isn't the people from the old neighborhood who only have high school degrees; the competition for the good jobs is the people who have a college degree, relevant experience, and an established network of people willing to recommend/hire/place new graduates into entry-level jobs without advertising the jobs.  An additional often-repeated argument was most people will have to move elsewhere in the state to have their college degree pay off in terms of an interesting job that pays middle-class income because the dying rural area and the inner-most inner city don't have significant numbers of middle-class jobs that require a college degree of some sort, but are pretty flexible in what that degree is.  On the plus side, having a middle-class job often means having enough money, free time, and reliable transportation to go the hour or two home frequently.

I also pointed out the realities that the "easiest" STEM major someone could possibly slide through with minimal effort was very unlikely to pay good money.  Students were often stunned to learn, as was mentioned upthread, that the average entry-level salaries in those fields are mid-20k to low-30k and actually require you to spend all day doing the repetitive, boring tasks that a BS holder can do while the graduate degree holders do the interesting parts.  The STEM fields where we're short on people and thus pay pretty well right out of college tend to be the ones that require a very specified curriculum taken in a specific order with almost no electives because of all that math that has to be taken before taking years of classes that use all that math.  Choosing something where one wants to do the work and therefore has a good shot at being above average tends to lead to better outcomes than hoping that the barest minimal checkbox will magically become big enough money to allow for an absurdly early retirement.

I still remember the student who was in my office for calculus help and was crying about even the effort to get the book.  When I asked her about her plans, she wanted to be a librarian, but was majoring in pre-med as the hardest thing she could imagine to make her application to grad school stand out.  It took all afternoon and a visit to the chair of the English department, but eventually we convinced that person who read Shakespeare and wrote poetry for fun that she very likely could become a librarian by earning an English degree, continuing her work in libraries, and writing a fabulous essay to get into a good master's program.  She graduated with highest honors and went to work in a library before applying to grad school.
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

apl68

Quote from: polly_mer on May 29, 2019, 05:18:08 AM
I spent several years where nearly all my advising load was entering first-year students who were majoring in pre-med/pre-physical therapy or some other one-off STEM who were deemed likely to need advising into a different major as those students encountered the realities that Hibush mentions.  The ones who made it through that first year tended to be handed off to my colleagues who were actually in the relevant STEM fields to shepherd the remaining students through the process.

Part of that reality was talking with students and getting them to change to something that aligned with their interests and was a good path forward.  The hard part was to get students to own their interests and believe that good lives can be had on many paths.  That often meant pointing out that a 2.01 average for a grudgingly-earned business degree from an undistinguished college while working a minimum wage job with no advancement possibilities is far less useful than a 3.5 in English with a couple paid-at-more-than-minimum-wage internships in local businesses to try out jobs, get some experience on the resume, and start a network of people who want people they know to succeed.  Don't tell my previous employer, but more than once, I pulled up offerings from community colleges and vo-tech institutions to help students see they could have a middle-class life in the rural area with a one-year certificate or an apprenticeship in the trades and leave college entirely as non-academic-minded folks at this point in their lives.

I also did a lot of pointing out that a happy English/philosophy/art/history major who has the energy left to engage with student groups and do interesting research papers will a) have something to put on a resume that will make employers notice and b) have interesting things to talk about during interviews in addition to having a much more pleasant college experience.  A compelling argument that often took multiple visits to sink in was that competition for the good jobs isn't the people from the old neighborhood who only have high school degrees; the competition for the good jobs is the people who have a college degree, relevant experience, and an established network of people willing to recommend/hire/place new graduates into entry-level jobs without advertising the jobs.  An additional often-repeated argument was most people will have to move elsewhere in the state to have their college degree pay off in terms of an interesting job that pays middle-class income because the dying rural area and the inner-most inner city don't have significant numbers of middle-class jobs that require a college degree of some sort, but are pretty flexible in what that degree is.  On the plus side, having a middle-class job often means having enough money, free time, and reliable transportation to go the hour or two home frequently.

I also pointed out the realities that the "easiest" STEM major someone could possibly slide through with minimal effort was very unlikely to pay good money.  Students were often stunned to learn, as was mentioned upthread, that the average entry-level salaries in those fields are mid-20k to low-30k and actually require you to spend all day doing the repetitive, boring tasks that a BS holder can do while the graduate degree holders do the interesting parts.  The STEM fields where we're short on people and thus pay pretty well right out of college tend to be the ones that require a very specified curriculum taken in a specific order with almost no electives because of all that math that has to be taken before taking years of classes that use all that math.  Choosing something where one wants to do the work and therefore has a good shot at being above average tends to lead to better outcomes than hoping that the barest minimal checkbox will magically become big enough money to allow for an absurdly early retirement.

That sounds very much like the kind of advising that many rural youth need.  I've been trying to tell young people that they need to major in something that they actually are interested in, because it will motivate them study harder and learn more.  THAT is the object of higher education, after all.  The skills that make one more employable are a by-product.  It matters less what one majors in than that one works as hard as possible to do as well as possible in school.

In our area they also need support for going into vocational trades that are still quite viable locally, but which need more qualifications than just a pair of hands and a willingness to show up.  I've heard of a number of would-be tradesmen who struggled or foundered because their math and basic literacy skills just weren't up to it.  Of the first three or four students in an apprenticeship program at a local employer, only one got all the way through.  That she was a young single mother probably made the guys who washed out feel all the more humiliated.  Her status gave her the motivation to succeed, I suppose.  A lot of young males around here need to pull their heads out of their rear ends and their gaming screens and get down to business.

If any will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.
For how does a man profit if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?

Hibush

Quote from: apl68 on May 29, 2019, 12:51:32 PM
In our area they also need support for going into vocational trades that are still quite viable locally, but which need more qualifications than just a pair of hands and a willingness to show up.  I've heard of a number of would-be tradesmen who struggled or foundered because their math and basic literacy skills just weren't up to it.  Of the first three or four students in an apprenticeship program at a local employer, only one got all the way through.  That she was a young single mother probably made the guys who washed out feel all the more humiliated.  Her status gave her the motivation to succeed, I suppose.  A lot of young males around here need to pull their heads out of their rear ends and their gaming screens and get down to business.

In many smallish cities and towns, the wealthiest residents are often general contractors. They need to be good at math, among many other things one can learn in college, as well as knowing the trades.

apl68

Quote from: polly_mer on May 29, 2019, 05:18:08 AM

I still remember the student who was in my office for calculus help and was crying about even the effort to get the book.  When I asked her about her plans, she wanted to be a librarian, but was majoring in pre-med as the hardest thing she could imagine to make her application to grad school stand out.  It took all afternoon and a visit to the chair of the English department, but eventually we convinced that person who read Shakespeare and wrote poetry for fun that she very likely could become a librarian by earning an English degree, continuing her work in libraries, and writing a fabulous essay to get into a good master's program.  She graduated with highest honors and went to work in a library before applying to grad school.

Your student followed a very common path into the library profession.  Few people dream of being a librarian when they grow up.  Most of us got into the business as a Plan B.  That seems to have been changing in recent years, however.  "Librarian" is starting to gain a reputation as one of that handful of middle-class jobs that the average person can understand and recognize.  A LOT of people are going into library school now. 

When I was working on my Masters of Library Science a few years ago, I noticed a division between those of us who had already been working in the field for years and were going to school to upgrade our credentials, and students with no library experience who went into the field because they had heard that libraries were a good place to work.  The latter did not impress me as having a very bright future in the profession.  Some of them seemed very poorly prepared for graduate-level work.  Library school may not be rocket science or law school, but it DOES require solid research and writing skills of a sort that many BA holders don't seem to have acquired in Grades 13-16 (If you've been through a PhD program, though, it feels very doable, even if you're already working full-time).  Once again, if higher ed is to do students any good in the long term, they must commit to actually getting an education, not just barely acquiring a diploma.

Also, professional-level library posts require a degree AND experience.  If you're a freshly-minted MLS with no actual library experience, you're going to have to spend a few years as a circulation clerk or other paraprofessional to pay your dues before you can get hired at a professional level.  Your student did the right thing by working at a library before starting on her professional degree.  It put her in a position to make the most of her formal classes, and gave her a leg up on getting that all-important practical experience.  I tell anybody who's interested in library work to start work at a library first and THEN go for the degree if it looks like the work is a good fit. 

In our state the State Library grants scholarships to working public library employees who have already taken a certain number of hours toward their degree to show they are serious.  In the long run you'll get MOST of your degree paid for if you go that route.  I took advantage of the opportunity myself, and am grateful for it.  Over the years this program has done a lot to professionalize librarianship in our state.  Would that more industries did something like this.

On last thought is that the growth in the number of library students--and the number of library programs that will take anybody, no matter how poorly prepared for masters'-level work--has resulted in an oversupply of degree-holding librarians in some urban areas.  I've known of a number of new MLS holders who can only find circulation-clerk work.  They'll improve their chances of finding professional-level work if they consent to working in less "desirable" areas where the need for library pros is under-served.
If any will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.
For how does a man profit if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?

ciao_yall

Quote from: Hibush on May 29, 2019, 01:15:57 PM
Quote from: apl68 on May 29, 2019, 12:51:32 PM
In our area they also need support for going into vocational trades that are still quite viable locally, but which need more qualifications than just a pair of hands and a willingness to show up.  I've heard of a number of would-be tradesmen who struggled or foundered because their math and basic literacy skills just weren't up to it.  Of the first three or four students in an apprenticeship program at a local employer, only one got all the way through.  That she was a young single mother probably made the guys who washed out feel all the more humiliated.  Her status gave her the motivation to succeed, I suppose.  A lot of young males around here need to pull their heads out of their rear ends and their gaming screens and get down to business.

In many smallish cities and towns, the wealthiest residents are often general contractors. They need to be good at math, among many other things one can learn in college, as well as knowing the trades.

And guess what makes a student interested enough in school to stick around long enough to learn (and learn how to use) math and English? The humanities!

polly_mer

#25
I've been debating a lot, but I can't let this go without comment.

Quote from: ciao_yall on May 30, 2019, 08:27:44 AM
And guess what makes a student interested enough in school to stick around long enough to learn (and learn how to use) math and English? The humanities!

If that's true, then the humanities are really doomed because we then have large numbers of people who should be majoring in the humanities who are not.  Full stop.

If one wants/needs to learn math for personal and/or professional reasons, then it's unclear to me how joyfully studying the humanities gets one there.  These are very different activities.  I understand joyfully studying the humanities. <Go ahead and remember many happy/rewarding/satisfying hours in study.  We'll wait.>

I understand less joyfully studying a particular math course because one can see the value of acquiring the tools, even if the process is less than fabulous.  For example, calculus classes were unpleasant for me, but being able to solve much more interesting problems has been worth the effort required to learn.  The analogy is like being able to use a hammer: I almost never sing, "Today's the day I get to use a hammer!", but situations arise when I need a hammer, so having one on hand and being proficient is handy.

What I don't understand is the blanket assertion of the humanities making students interested enough in school to stick around to major in other subjects.  People who love the humanities and are having a good experience will tend to stick around and jump the hoops for the other requirements so they can stay enrolled in their humanities major program.  I understand how one might be much more interested in one's humanities major, be interested enough in other humanities courses to engage, and somehow be a good sport about the math and science requirements (often very minimal compared to other general education requirements).

However, one of the recurring discussions in places I frequent is how a system of required humanities courses can be off-putting to those who are in college for other reasons (e.g., great love of math, but little interest in other areas; acquiring skills for one particular job category; unclear on the next step, so in college hoping to acquire a ticket punch).  Why aren't the humanities better appreciated by government officials and the general public?  Sometimes, that's the result of direct experiences in college with required humanities classes that are treated as a box-checking exercise by everyone involved.

As long as many people can write (https://www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,264128.msg3643063.html#msg3643063)
Quote from: wahoo on April 16, 2019, 06:43:43 AM
25 FT faculty / 80 PT faculty. 

If we were at a healthy little SLAC or even a Div III-sized school, 25 would be a more-than-robust number of faculty to provide the main focus of the institution, teaching.  But we are an institution of 15+K students, most of whom come from lower-income households, many of whom are 1st generation, and all of whom must cycle through the glut of (almost entirely) poorly trained adjunct instructors.  And again, I'll mention the terrible reputation of these folks among students and faculty.  The "deprofessionalization" comes from hiring people with minimal qualifications (sometimes without the appropriate advanced degree even) and then paying them a well-below-living wage to perform, once again, the primary function of the university on a piecemeal basis.

then the humanities are going to have an uphill battle convincing people that their direct experience was somehow wrong.  Higher ed systems outside the US tend to not have heavy-on-the-humanities general education requirements;  instead, university is a time to focus on one particular field in depth.  My colleagues from those systems who immigrate to the US tend to have much more positive associations with the humanities and fine arts as well as being very civic minded*.

Thus, while some people are absolutely in college because they are enjoying their humanities courses, SPADFY applies and people may wish to rethink their premises underlying curriculum requirements that might actually be doing more harm to certain goals than good.

* It's likely that I will see sampling bias because I tend to work at places where only people who are extremely civic minded will jump all the hoops as a foreign national to become a US citizen.
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

paultuttle

I think we also need to remember the unrealistic parents/relatives/guidance counselors who remember how relatively easy it was to find a job with a college degree--hell, even with just a high school degree--back in their day.

Well, for white middle-class people. I do have to qualify my statements, at this point.

According to these well-meaning advisers, any college degree and any resulting (white-collar) career would provide a "decent living" for a person who was the head of a family (yes, usually a man). That was True(tm) because it had always been the case.

These well-meaning advisers didn't foresee the downsides to globalization--for example, the loss of outsource-able factory jobs--or the corporate-izing of so many career fields--for example, the mind-numbing check-boxing of K-12, or the adjunctification of higher education. They didn't foresee the many ways in which wealth would be shifted in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s from those who earn money from working to those who make money from using money.

Interestingly, I know a lot of humanities-focused people who went to college in the 1980s and early 1990s who either "sold out" and are now making extremely large money in the business, finance, IT, or technology-led economic development arenas or "stuck to their principles" and are lower-middle-class at best while doing what they love.

Unfortunately, "doing what they love" won't necessarily bring home a good salary, cover the household budget as well as unexpected expenses like health crises, etc. Nor will "living the life of the mind." Not any more. Not unless you experience a good bit of luck in the opportunities that come your way--and the insight to take advantage of those moments.

___

Curiously, many in the STEM fields have begun to realize that communication, and reading, and writing, and other such "soft skills" are essential to success in most careers, particularly as team-based and inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches are crucial for solving really difficult, large-scale problems.

Could it be that the value of the humanities will again be recognized? I wonder.

marshwiggle

#27
Quote from: paultuttle on June 03, 2019, 03:18:02 PM

According to these well-meaning advisers, any college degree and any resulting (white-collar) career would provide a "decent living" for a person who was the head of a family (yes, usually a man). That was True(tm) because it had always been the case.

These well-meaning advisers didn't foresee the downsides to globalization--for example, the loss of outsource-able factory jobs--or the corporate-izing of so many career fields--for example, the mind-numbing check-boxing of K-12, or the adjunctification of higher education. They didn't foresee the many ways in which wealth would be shifted in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s from those who earn money from working to those who make money from using money.

As I've pointed out many times, when post-secondary education was primarily for the sons (typically) of the rich who were going to work in their dads' businesses after graduation, the content didn't matter greatly; it was kind of cultural education. However, as it became expected that basically everyone would attempt it, the standards in high school had to go down in order to make everyone eligible. And that's without asking whether the "education" suitable for wealthy kids with career paths already set out for them is what makes sense for everyone.

Quote

Curiously, many in the STEM fields have begun to realize that communication, and reading, and writing, and other such "soft skills" are essential to success in most careers, particularly as team-based and inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches are crucial for solving really difficult, large-scale problems.

Could it be that the value of the humanities will again be recognized? I wonder.

I have never once in about 4 decades heard anyone in STEM say that reading, writing, and communication were unimportant. However,  I have heard many people in the humanities who seem to think that the only way students can learn those skills is through the humanities. And I have also heard some people in the humanities take pride in their complete inability to handle any quantitative analysis whatsoever, because math is beneath them.

[Fixed the quote function -- Polly]
It takes so little to be above average.

polly_mer

#28
Quote from: paultuttle on June 03, 2019, 03:18:02 PM
Curiously, many in the STEM fields have begun to realize that communication, and reading, and writing, and other such "soft skills" are essential to success in most careers, particularly as team-based and inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches are crucial for solving really difficult, large-scale problems.

Could it be that the value of the humanities will again be recognized? I wonder.

I disagree with "have begun" to realize other skills are essential.  C. P. Snow's ideas of the Two Cultures is somewhat dated in specifics, but the anecdotes still ring true enough in the places I frequent.

The value in studying the humanities at college is the special knowledge one obtains regarding humans in all their messy, irrational, peculiarities that isn't available by simply extrapolating up from humans being complex, biological systems obeying chemistry and other physical laws.  That means, as historians correctly point out, not just what knowing what happened on what date in history, but why humans took specific actions, what we can see in patterns for why actions were taken by large groups of humans, and what ripples we're still experiencing today because humans have long memories and listen to narratives from other humans.

Literature helps us understand individuals and their relationships to the broader world.  The place where many people fail in their professional lives is not truly believing that M(ost)PADFY and that diversity at its heart means letting people be different in meaningful ways, not just clothes and favorite foods.  Arts often help us explore the human experience in other ways while philosophy continues to help people reflect on what a good life means and what the trade-offs may be to have a good enough life.

Yes, communication, reading, and writing are extremely important.  However, one must have something to communicate and one must have some idea of how the target audience will react before building the case and choosing the exact words/figures/tables/graphs/examples.  That means knowing the subject matter inside out and sideways, not just having excellent grammar. Building a compelling logical case means knowing what other humans accept as valid evidence and what will most strongly support the case.  As Marshwiggle wrote, the frustration on this side is some folks in the humanities seeming to insist that only the humanities teach communication skills and those skills are sufficient for most situations outside of school, even while often neglecting to teach communication skills related to using quantitative evidence including charts, tables, and graphs.

One big way that management and administration fail is deciding what the valid evidence is and completely ignoring other valid evidence that people being reached by the communiques already have.  Recruiting to particular college programs can fail similarly by ignoring the fact that potential students, even as teenagers and especially as returning adults, have experiences, models of how the world works, and access to other information.  Reducing the study of the humanities at the college level to mere job skill acquisition in areas where people are certain they are already proficient enough contributes to devaluing the humanities for society at large.
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

apl68

It's good to see a defense of the humanities by somebody who can bring an outside perspective, Polly. 

I suspect one reason why many academics in humanities fields don't do a very good job of making their case is that they're just too close to the situation, too threatened and too under siege by those who question their fields' very right to existence in today's world.  It's not surprising that they're sometimes going to get emotional and not think through what they're saying.  Although as academics, they really ought to be able to step back and think things through.

I've said before that in the library field we've been in the same boat as far as having our usefulness and our right to exist increasingly questioned in recent years.  Most of us--at least those who aren't at a point where they're just trying to last out their final years to retirement--understand that we've got to work hard to convince the communities that support us that we're still relevant.
If any will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.
For how does a man profit if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?