Take those impractical courses, kids!

The President of John Hopkins University, Ronald J. Daniels, recently overheard a conversation among students. One opined that he would have liked to have enrolled in an introductory course in philosophy, but that the demands of his major meant that “enlightenment would have to wait”, you “gotta get a job”, and that therefore he would have to sign up for a “practical” course. Such is the pressure of the sceptics of the humanities (“what use is 19th Century French literature?”) that courses in the humanities in the US are dwindling and are known in the trade as “fragile disciplines”.

I was recently talking with a very senior person from the US Treasury. In the course of the conversation he told me that the biggest problem in the Treasury was the lack of people who could write English, communicate with the Press, not to mention internally, and make the jargon of the department comprehensible. He said that good writers with a command of grammar and vocabulary were among the highest earners in this large department.

I read Modern History at University. For “history” you can resd “human motivations, national interest and mass psychology”. I ended up running a company and found history a great foundation for managing employees and customers, the two most important aspects of management. Of course, not everyone will end up managing people, but learning the technical part of a job comes after you have honed your imagination, ethical decision-making, writing skills, discernment, critical thinking, self-reflection, empathy, and tolerance. Not to mention sense of humour, without which all business can be grim.

Actually, recent studies show that those with humanities degrees are thriving in the workplace. They experience low rates of unemployment and high levels of job satisfaction. Throughout an average career the ratio between average median incomes for humanties degree holders and those with business, engineering, health and medical science degrees has been shown to narrow. As if only income matters in a lifetime.

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