Embracing the Humanities Leads to a Happier Life

When I first enrolled in college my declared major was Biology. I had planned on becoming a scientist and working for the NIH conducting medical research or doing something related to the medical field because I thought I would always have a job. I did not pick this particular major because I was initially passionate but instead because I wanted a job where I would make money. That was my only deciding factor. I put forth the time and energy to figure out my place in the field. I interned, I joined groups, I was invited to be a part of big name scholar groups. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do to be successful in the field but I wasn’t happy. After trial, error, and exponential amounts of money later, I found my fit.

The humanities have been home ever since. I now realize that this is where I should have been to begin with. I have also noticed that many do not see the importance of this area of study and it’s a shame. The definition of the study of humanities strikes me as a concept of great importance. It is literally about us, all of us. Every single human being that has and ever will occupy space on this planet. So why does it decrease in importance when being compared to STEM or law? The reason is that there is a stereotype that follows these fields. It is assumed that these professions will produce the most successful individuals, but then it depends on your definition of successful. Sure, the money will probably be better but is it really the best reason to stay away from what you could be more passionate about? I don’t think so.

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I was always encouraged to be a doctor, lawyer, or something that would allow me to make lots of money. I remember toying with the idea of becoming a school teacher and I was told that they don’t make very much. Of all of the things that could have been said, that was the first thing I heard. When I wanted to be an artist in second grade, I was told that that wasn’t a real job. We are convinced from the time that we are young that we should do something that will secure our future. However, we are not considering all the parts of the equation. Parents want the best for their children but they have a tendency to blur the line between encouragement and force. This keeps kids from making their own choices and makes them feel as though they have to follow the path that is expected. What parents don’t realize is that they may be taking something away from their children. I say this because it would have been true for me.

My focus of study is on English and Literature. Naturally, writing is a major component of these fields. Through writing, we prove what we know with supporting material and develop new ideas to tie information together. It is how we make sense of everything we read and learn. Several studies have shown how writing can expand our learning and how handwriting is even better. It forces the individual to figure out what they want to say (thinking) and then makes them translate their thoughts onto paper or screen (doing). In science classes writing is not a major form of testing. The majority hand out fifty multiple choice questions with ninety minutes to complete. This is all speaking from experience. Everything that I learned in my first few years of college feels as though it has slowly begun to seep out of my brain. Certain topics will come up in conversation and I will not be able to recall them. I can remember the stressful night I spent studying to remember the information for an exam, but the actual content appears to be gone. I spent so much time focusing on memorizing facts instead of actually learning what I needed to know. Looking back, the skill that I lacked most was critical thinking. I could conduct the experiments, gather the results, but when it came time to interpret the results I was completely lost. I would look to my grad student and hope that he wouldn’t realize how lost I was. I would recall everything he would explain and try to figure out what it meant back in my dorm room.

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Critical thinking is a huge part of the humanities. Not to say that it is not taught in other fields, but it is the basis of the study. Their focus is to teach people how to think in a manner that is objective and productive. The point is to analyze, assess, and reconstruct the problem or idea at hand to improve the outcome. It applies and enhances the learning of all fields of study. In my mind it is like going to a Target to ask about paint swatches instead of going to Sherwin-Williams. You can get some insight into what they may feel is important about paint swatches but they will likely not be able to tell you that high gloss is typically used on cabinets and flat is used on walls. If you want the best information, you go to the experts. In this case, it is the teachers of humanities that will be able to instill the strongest foundation for critical thinking. It is from this point that we can then build and branch out from.

Reference List:

Baer, Drake (2014). Here’s why writing things out by hand makes you smarter. http://www.businessinsider.com/handwriting-helps-you-learn-2014-12

Bauerlein, Mark (2011). Critical Thinking is No Defense for the Humanities. http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/critical-thinking-is-no-defense-for-the-humanities/36966

Behling, David (2012). On Studying the Humanities: What does it mean to be human?. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-behling/humanities-majors_b_1569600.html

Friedman, Nick (2016). Parents Just Don’t Understand. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201407/parents-just-dont-understand

Kroker, Kari (2010). Critical Thinking and the Humanities, a Beginner’s Guide. https://prezi.com/gpxcwormdj0t/critical-thinking-and-the-humanities-a-beginners-guide/

Orlin, Ben (2013). When Memorizations Gets in the Way of Learning. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/09/when-memorization-gets-in-the-way-of-learning/279425/

Smith, Jacquelyn (2015). The 30 highest-paying jobs in America. http://www.businessinsider.com/top-paying-jobs-in-america-2015-9

Zuckerberg, Donna (2015). Burned at the Stake: How Do We Determine the Value of the Humanities?. https://eidolon.pub/burned-at-the-stake-how-do-we-determine-the-value-of-the-humanities-b309862cdc14#.b0vystn1b