Globe Editorial

Humanities: Shall I compare thee to an econ course?

(The New York Times)
November 9, 2010

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Economic necessity is a rigid academic counselor. So it’s no surprise that the percentage of undergraduates majoring in the humanities keeps on declining, from 17 percent in 1966 to 8 percent in 2007. Especially in the face of today’s crippling debt levels and dreary job market, even students who adore Shakespeare’s poetry are seeking more marketable academic credentials. And yet the value of literature, philosophy, and history remains what it always has been — a mostly impractical gift that the undergraduate is given for a lifetime.

College administrators can only do so much to persuade students to major in the humanities. What they can and should do is make sure undergraduates take some courses that at least introduce them to Plato and Sophocles, or St. Augustine and Martin Luther, or James Joyce and William Butler Yeats. The student who’s destined to work on a computer for a living may still gain more from learning about the French Revolution than, say, an extra tuneup on HTML.