Dear Silicon Valley Parents,
There’s an overwhelming amount of opportunities to take advantage of in the Silicon Valley. I doubt there’s a part of the world that’s somewhat developed that hasn’t heard of Apple or Facebook or any of the other tech giants in our backyard, or that wouldn’t want to have half of the opportunities we do. To prevent your child (or even yourself) from taking advantage of these opportunities is not the purpose of this letter.
We live in a bubble where pushing your children towards STEM makes all the sense in the world, even if they don’t want to do it. And “allowing” your children to decide what they want to study is sometimes an assumption that they will choose the “right thing” — STEM. Pushing the humanities to a position of undesirability is common, too, leading parents to be unsupportive of their humanities inclined kids, even belittling them. There’s no doubt that STEM has a huge impact on everyday life in the Silicon Valley, but at the same time, the major corporations that are revered throughout the Valley need humanities students in order to work in the long term.
Every year, as high school seniors get ready to go to college, I hear about seniors whose parents have decided where they’re going to school and what they’re studying. A particularly uncomfortable story was when a girl’s parents put their emails in all of her college applications (instead of hers — the colleges she applied to had no way of contacting her), so that they would be notified of her college acceptances/rejections. Accordingly, they also enrolled her as soon as they got an acceptance from one college while she was still at school. When she came home, her parents informed her of where she would be spending the next four years of her life, and she couldn’t really do anything about it. Earlier on, of course, they also decided what she would be studying in college: computer science. Stories like this are not uncommon, but they also aren’t at this extreme. But there are many students who are at schools they don’t belong in and/or studying something they’re not passionate about simply because their parents have one definition of success, which is wholly centered around STEM: step 1) attend a very specific school, step 2) get an internship at xyz tech company, and step 3) eventually get a job at xyz tech company. This viewpoint excludes anything else from being included in success.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my iPhone, MacBook, and iPad, my Facebook makes it so easy to find friends I’ve lost contact with, and I use Google more than I use anything else in one day. These companies have done wonderful things around the world. They are not, however, free from blame or scrutiny. At this point, I’m sure everyone has heard of the various security scandals surrounding Facebook, from data breaches to Russians’ strategically placed propaganda, and all of the emails you got with “privacy update”. After this, companies have started to hire people with backgrounds in journalism, anthropology, linguistics, communications, etc. to work on new teams that are designed to prevent these types of things from happening again. There was also an AI project at MIT, where researchers fed the robot Reddit threads, and essentially created a psychopathic AI. There are multiple examples of AI gone wrong, to the point where just STEM solutions are no longer enough, and working with the humanities is necessary.
Both the humanities and STEM are needed in this world; it’s a balance. There’s a reason you have a whole brain, not just a “left brain” or a “right brain” — no matter which one you have, it’s still half a brain, and it’s not gonna get you anywhere. We need passionate humanities students and passionate STEM students to maintain the amazing things we’ve created here in the Silicon Valley. But one is not worth more than the other, and there is no single definition of success. By all means, encourage your STEM inclined children to pursue STEM. But extend that encouragement to your humanities inclined children, too, and encourage them to study the humanities.
Additionally, the humanities cover a broad group of subjects. Most importantly, it includes history and critical, analytical thinking. A lot of the lessons learned within these types of courses offer a blueprint of how the world has become what it is today. There are also keys within our past that can help us from repeating history, which, considering our current political climate, we should be prioritizing. Doing away with humanities can let go of the reminders we need of the atrocities that have been committed. It can also allow many countries off the hook, so that they don’t have to confront their histories in the future. The humanities do serve many necessary purposes, and I truly believe that a sustainable future is interdisciplinary.
We should, therefore, encourage children to pursue their own passions. It’s been said over and over again, and it’s the subject of many corny movies, but it’s very true. The only way to get on the path to success is to be passionate, whether it’s a passion for STEM or the humanities.
A Very Concerned Humanities Student