The Value of the Humanities and Social Sciences

This article in today’s Globe and Mail discusses the decline of Humanities and Social Science education in Canadian universities. The trend is evident elsewhere. While I do have biases as a historian, there are very pressing reasons why we need people to study Humanities and Social Science subjects. For example, I am convinced that much of the nature of public discourse in the United States is due to the decline of what Americans call Civics education. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) may seem more marketable but, in reality, undergraduate degrees are more or less equal with the exception of professional degrees like Engineering. The differentiation occurs at the graduate level and in professional school. Also, on a more fundamental note, science provides insights into the human condition — such as global warming — and the Humanities and Social Sciences are paths to understanding how to use those insights to sovle human problems. I doubt that solely focusing on STEM will help students understand problems such as the condition of first nations people in Canada, why abortion is opposed on religious grounds, why economic inequality happens, and why a region like the Middle East ended-up in its current condition (the list is almost endless, but I will spare everyone). Most crucially, the Humanities and Social Sciences are routes to understanding democracy. I fear that we are producing people who are good at Math but do not know how to be citizens in a democracy.

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