Opinion: Others should follow BC's lead and promote the humanities

It is easy to find things to complain about these days on the Heights, from the broken water tap in Lower to our increasingly prevalent lack of housing. Personally, my life has never been the same since they took Chobani out of the dining halls.

However, Boston College has positively distinguished itself in a big way from many other universities, and we should all take notice. As other universities have responded to a growing push to emphasize STEM fields (science, technology, math, and engineering), BC has continued its commitment to providing a diverse, well-rounded liberal arts education.

These days, it is hard not to hear about STEM, whether it is in regards to education or the economy. Focusing on these areas of study is crucial to our ability to compete on a global scale, and in our current state of recovery, it is one of the keys to creating new jobs. On the other hand, society’s increasing emphasis on these fields is coming at a growing expense to the humanities in schools and job markets across the country.

Courtesy of Angela Thomas/Flickr

Courtesy of Angela Thomas/Flickr

Congress has been taking on initiatives to promote STEM for a large portion of the past decade. In 2007, former President Bush signed the America COMPETES Act, which increased investment in science and engineering research as well as STEM education. As recently as November 2012, the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act, although the measure has not yet cleared the Senate.

After the 2008 economic downturn, we are hearing now more than ever about the importance of receiving a specialized education in order to better compete increasingly specialized jobs. I am sure that every English major has heard a relative or family friend ask, “What are you going to do with a degree in English? You know there’s no money in that, right?”

Even here in Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick pushed for a new focus on community colleges to fill “middle-skills” jobs – those that require more than a high school education, but less than a four-year college degree – throughout 2012. In his 2012 State of the State address, the Governor highlighted a pilot co-op program at Bunker Hill Community College featuring on-the-job training as well as traditional classroom learning.

It seems that throughout the education community and the economy, the merits of a diverse liberal arts education have become severely undervalued. Students are becoming less concerned with receiving a well-rounded education as they face mounting pressure to acquire only the skills necessary to get them a job.

Perhaps even worse, students who choose to go down the path of a humanities major, whether it is philosophy, art history or theology, sometimes face the misguided criticism that they do not possess the discipline or the intelligence to study subjects like physics or math.

Courtesy of Tennessee Wesleyan College/Flickr

Courtesy of Tennessee Wesleyan College/Flickr

These students often face the judgement that they lack focus because a liberal arts degree is designed to provide a wealth of avenues to pursue upon graduation rather than provide training in a single field. This suggestion ignores the fact that these students will have far more flexibility to adapt to new real-world situations and problems.

Here at BC, where ambitions run notoriously high, we have no shortage of Pre-Med students toughing out long lectures and labs. While we do not have an engineering school, we have a large population of dedicated math and science students focused on attaining highly sought-after specialized jobs upon graduation.

But the beauty of BC is its unwavering commitment to provide each student an education which incorporates a wide range of subjects. No biology student can leave here without taking a course in literature, and no theology student can escape without a semester of math. While STEM is consuming most of the attention of the education world, BC has continued to support STEM and the humanities as equally important pieces of the scholastic puzzle.

Education needs to evolve over time to adapt to changing societies and economies. But instead of seeing an overall evolution in education today, we are seeing a giant shift in focus from holistic education to single-skill job-based training.  With the rapid growth of technology in the past 20 years, it makes sense that educational innovations have been highly concentrated in STEM fields as of late. Educators should see this as a challenge to revolutionize humanities education as well. What should an English class really look like in 2013? Should we be doing anything differently?

BC has taken this challenge head on with the recent completion of Stokes Hall, a mecca for all things of the humanities. The university has also announced that it will be reviewing the core curriculum in order to bring it up to date. It is clear that BC is committed to providing its students with a modern and enriching liberal arts education and other institutions should follow our lead.

This is not to say that BC is perfect or that the school will not face new challenges along the way, but it has remained dedicated to providing a well-rounded education in a time when it is becoming less and less popular to do so. Instead of focusing only on STEM, the education community should follow BC’s lead to innovate in all fields.

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