The Humanities Strikes Back – or rather Recent Pileus Guest Blogger Aeon Skoble Does for the Humanities

Good to see the IHS offer “equal time” on the question.  My only quibble with Aeon’s take relates to theory vs. practice.  In theory, he is correct, and I applaud him for standing up against the mass of “STEMsters”  and calmly asking (as a philosopher would) the world to think about the new conventional wisdom a bit more before fulling embracing it.  Thus, I agree that there is a lot of value to what the humanities in theory can do for the minds of our students.  However, I have little doubt from what I read about other places and hear around my campus that wayyy too many humanities classes are failing to do what Aeon thinks they can do.  Indeed, I often wonder if many of those humanities classes are actually providing negative value!  I have a hard time imagining that this is the case in STEM classes.  That being said, the battle shouldn’t really be whether the humanities are useful (even in the non-economic sense) – since Aeon is correct – but about how the humanities ought to be taught in order to benefit our students (and society).

4 thoughts on “The Humanities Strikes Back – or rather Recent Pileus Guest Blogger Aeon Skoble Does for the Humanities

  1. This video ticked one of my biggest pet peeve. Critical reading, analytical thought, problem solving, etc, are not the domain of liberal arts. They are the domain of any good education.

    My formal education is in engineering (undergrad) and science (grad), and I wouldn’t have gotten past Sophomore year if I wasn’t developing those skills. In fact, every engineer and scientist I’ve talked to about this has said that teaching these skills was openly discussed by their college professors.

    There are many good arguments for the existence of humanities classes/majors, but arguing for their existence using traits that you can find in any good education isn’t one of them.

  2. You’ve missed my point. My point wasn’t that no other majors learn useful skills, but that it’s false to claim that humanities majors don’t. I was specifically responding to another video that made this claim. I’m sure STEM majors also learn good analytic skills. But: if you major in chemical engineering or accounting or exercise kinesiology, how “useful” are those if you end up wanting an entirely different career? We ask 17 and 18 year olds to decide what they would like to study for the next few years – the more that’s explicitly tied to a career path, the stupider that is. Far better to study things that will broaden your horizons and equip you with transferable skills.

    1. “you” referring to the previous comment, not to the post, which does raise a good question.

    2. Perhaps I did miss the point, and if someone else is making the claim that humanities don’t teach any useful skills, I don’t agree with that.

      But there is a false dichotomy here. There is no reason that a good curriculum can not broaden horizons and instill transferable skills while still providing career-centric education. Kafka, Heller, and Hayek are all good reads on the folly of complexity, but so is the design of robotic behavior or the study of accounting disclosure.

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