I was recently displeased to see yet another politician pushing for cuts in Liberal Arts and Humanities classes to save money. I was even more displeased to see the usual defenses on my favorite blogs. Humanities gives you morals. Humanities gives you critical thinking skills.
And of course people were throwing around the famous quote, of which I have heard many versions, “Science teaches you to make a cyborg T-Rex. Humanities teaches you it’s a bad idea.”
Of course this is all ridiculous. People are perfectly capable of learning morals without a writing class, and science and math necessarily teach critical thinking and problem solving. I trust scientists not to create a cyborg T-rex regardless of whether or not they’ve taken my English 101 class.
What the humanities teaches is history and communication. The importance of these things is obvious to me, and it infuriates me when they are overlooked.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times people have told me how to write or design based on their assumption that one can be naturally good at these. I can’t tell you how many students told me, in horribly composed emails or flubbed speeches, that they do not need a writing class.
People assume, because they communicate every day with friends, family, colleges, that communication is natural; that it does not need to be learned or improved.
They’re almost always very wrong. Communication is a skill, like math or science, which has to be learned and practiced.
It does not matter how good you are at your job. You could be the most brilliant inventor, doctor, or banker in the world, but if you can’t communicate your new, genius idea to your boss or your customers, you might as well not have it at all.
If you cannot communicate in a professional, organized way your company will, at best, give the project to someone who can. At worst they will ignore it completely.
I know there are people whose emails make me roll my eyes. They are so scattered, badly written, or badly thought out, that I take their writer less seriously. The same goes with any written or spoken communication.
The same goes for art. I can’t tell you how many times a client has needed something and has sent me a squiggled square with a few lines through it, or don’t know the words for gradient, or the basic ideas of color theory. There isn’t a graphic designer in the world that doesn’t hope their client has a little art history or design knowledge.
In the same vein, being able to make a mock-up quickly and have a knowledge of art trends has helped me immensely. Being able to take a scrap of paper, sketch something out, and then ask the client, “Like this?” makes them more confident in my abilities and my knowledge, even in non-art-centric projects.
Art and Humanities do and can create and cultivate a greater sense of empathy and can foster critical and creative thinking. American businesses and politicians should recognize this, but they should also recognize the completely practical communication skills that can only be built through focus and professional guidance. You need Arts and Letters to make good business professionals. Period.
In short, science teaches you how to make a cyborg T-Rex. Humanities teaches you how to explain how they might have excellent military applications and make great pets.