A latent defense of liberal arts

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“You’d be better off working as a prostitute than majoring in communications.”

The ensuing silence was deafening.

Concealing my anger behind a beatific smile, I didn’t deign a reply; in retrospect, I wish I had. Yes, my friend was crassly rude when he hurled the insult in front of others, but my offense was more egregious: I failed to defend something so dear to my heart.
Liberal arts and humanities: in this dwindling economy, have they simply become irrelevant relics of easier and gentler times? Can we no longer afford to attend a university simply for the beauty of critical thinking and passion for a subject? Everyone, from grandma to kids, is always asking, “What are you going to do with that?”
With the rising costs of tuition and living expenses, it’s logical that people are hesitant to major in the liberal arts.
This isn’t 1920, when you could sit back and contemplate historical events or literature. With student loans reaching upwards of $1 trillion, the deficit is wounding the economy. In the eyes of the media, college has now become the equivalent of trade school, expected to churn out cookie-cutter young professionals who magically land jobs once they graduate.
What’s the point of spending thousands of dollars for a higher education, if you don’t come out with a job? No one wants to spend years being unemployed, up to their eyeballs in debt, lamenting their college degree. Life should always be about minimizing costs to maximize benefit. This is the guiding principle behind any sensible action, right?
But love is rarely, if ever, sensible. What if you fervently crave literature, music or art?
Apparently, there isn’t much of a premium on ”soft” liberal arts, monetarily speaking. Employers across the spectrum don’t value liberal arts degrees, not the way they iconize STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees. The broader implications of such notions are staggering: by blacklisting liberal arts degrees as useless tripe, it is implied that only technical skills matter in today’s society.
At first glance, this idea may even seem valid. I’m a communication major who writes, but I can’t invent a prosthetic arm, unlike a biomedical engineering student. I can’t file taxes, unlike an accounting major. Is there a hierarchy of skills in the workforce, measured by impact?
However, my skills are not worthless. Being a communication major, I’ve learned how to write with zeal and imagination. I’ve learned how to captivate an audience using videos; I’ve tailored evocative advertisements and formatted press releases.
I’ve marketed products and my own sport club more effectively as a result. I’ve learned that free expression is necessary for democracy and the value of the First Amendment. I can now analyze and create media cogently, and understand why media is essential to society. I’ve finally learned the value of my education; by pursuing excellence in a subject that ignites my soul, I’ve known true bliss.
And these skills are definitely transferable to the workplace, contrary to popular belief.
As an example, take a look at the British chocolate company, Sainsbury’s. They released a wonderfully moving Christmas ad, which describes a truce between British and German soldiers on Christmas Eve of 1914, in the midst of World War I. The ad required knowledge, not just of history, but also of human dynamics- how to stir the emotions of people. I’ll bet it was produced by a liberal arts major.
Moreover, while ambition and financial success are practical and admirable goals, who’s to judge if someone wants to become an English professor, artist or writer? Money should not be the sole ruler by which we measure success. Sometimes, the impact one’s meant to make on Earth cannot be tangibly measured in the form of marginal profit. Certain people are meant to create prosthetic limbs, others are meant to write Harry Potter novels. It is the great marvel of humanity.
In my opinion, there exists a happy medium between STEM and liberal arts. Today, the unfortunate economic reality has necessitated the cultivation of many “hard” STEM skills, but “soft” skills are just as essential.
In my opinion, if a student has a clear, set plan in place, he or she can excel in any field. Major in theatre or communication, but have an objective goal, some direction. Throw in some contingencies for good measure. Whether it’s double majoring in a more technical skill-oriented field, attending grad school or specializing on a particular topic—several options exist.
College is more than a monetary investment. It’s a period in one’s life to seriously analyze which path to take—and the liberal arts’ path is now the road less traveled. Perhaps the liberal arts allow us to fully understand the human condition, which is priceless knowledge. When we invest in the liberal arts, we don’t invest in hopes of getting more dollars in the long run- we invest in ourselves.