Daniel Belgrad, USF humanities and cultural studies professor, began his academic journey as an engineering major at Princeton.
After taking a philosophy course as an elective, he quickly realized the academic fulfillment he desired was in the humanities.
“I thought engineering would make me happy and secure, but I don’t think it would’ve. I’m pretty happy and secure right now,” said the now multi-award winning and twice-published professor in a Tuesday interview with The Oracle.
The humanities are a vital part of higher education and society. Students should take humanities courses to improve critical thinking and communication skills.
Humanities are the study of art, history and philosophy and “are what connects us to the past and ideas,” Belgrad said.
In a world full of STEM majors, the humanities are slowly suffocating.
Many students pursue STEM majors despite a passion for the humanities since job prospects are more promising. Yet, some are questioning whether we’re living in a time that is “the end of the English major.”
Although STEM majors help keep the world spinning with new technological advancements, the humanities are just as important to help foster new ideas and achieve improvements by fostering analytical skills.
The humanities allow people to reflect deeply and critically on history so modern society can have a better road map forward.
“How can we decide what we need to do next unless we can understand where we are currently?” he said.
One way students can think more critically is by studying the humanities, Belgrad said.
The humanities help express what’s being communicated “by the means in which things are expressed instead of looking at the surface,” he continued.
Studying the humanities helps train the mind to think and communicate more clearly. And with the decline in students’ ability to communicate, studying the humanities is just as important to help aid the communication problem.
Yet, education has been focused more on developing STEM with the Department of Education launching an initiative in 2022 to enhance STEM K-12 education. This initiative provides a rigorous education for students, support for STEM teachers and funding.
And there’s a logical reason for it since STEM helps strengthen the economy, according to the U.S. Joint Economic Committee.
Although, all this push for STEM leaves the humanities lacking with the number of graduates in humanities declining by 29.6% from 2012 to 2020.
“The liberal education is being crowded out because it’s hard to point out exactly what it is,” Belgrad said.
“The skill set is a little more ineffable. Sometimes the roles are difficult to detect until a few years down the road. But when we lose that we lose something that is crucial to a democratic society,” he continued.
Society doesn’t just lose the humanities, it loses a critical skill that helps a democracy flourish: the ability to think freely and independently.
Universities and K-12 schools should help cultivate this critical skill by having a more equal balance of studying STEM and the humanities.
“The beauty of the liberal arts lies in its acknowledgment that intellectual pursuits bear fruit in far more ways than financial payoff,” the Washington Street Journal wrote.
The liberal arts education trains the mind to think deeper about the world around them. Studying in the humanities can actually better prepare students for medical school. It can also benefit young people’s future careers and society, according to a study by Oxford University.
Students pursue a college degree to help pay the bills, and majoring in STEM is promising with career growth rates more than double of non-STEM occupations.
Yet, the humanities are still important for all areas of life. Belgrad said he respects STEM majors, but doesn’t believe STEM majors are the only way for economic growth – and his own personal academic experience is a testimony to that.
If students are looking for courses during add/drop week, humanities courses such as Science in Cultural Context (HUM2593), Utopia in Science Fiction (HUM4261) and Film Noir and Western Classics (HUM4890) are still available.
“It’s not just the past for the past sake or the art for arts sake, it’s our possible motion forward,” he said.
Students’ motion forward should be hand-in-hand with the humanities to help not only improve society, but help improve ourselves.