Are the Humanities subjects under attack … again?

Are the Humanities an easy target once again?

In October 2016 the BBC News website published two stories online claiming that experts are appealing against an exam boards plans to scrap A Levels in Art History and Archaeology. This is part of an ongoing debate surrounding the role of humanities in schools and universities. Back in March 2015 the Guardian ran an article with the emotive title “The war against humanities in Britain’s universities”. The article explored the notion that the roots of the issue could be traced back to the government and education reforms of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s. However, between the years 2010-15 it has been argued for ‘prosperity to continue [in the UK], the government believes we need high levels of skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and citizens value them’. Yet, it has to be noted that it is somewhat ironic that many of the current cabinet ministers have a degree in a humanities or arts subject.

The Stanford Humanities Center in California has researched and published many papers on the above problem. Stanford’s argument is that in studying the humanities it gives people an ‘insight into everything’, an ‘understanding [of] our world’, and brings ‘clarity to the future’.  If the UK and the world accepts Stanford’s argument, then it begs the question about what it is about the humanities and arts that makes it an easy target and so offensive to people? Perhaps it is that the subjects are harder to quantify than a science, and their usefulness to society is not easy to explain. Nonetheless, the skills that a historian, or an artist obtains through A levels or a university degree makes them highly employable. However, it is the actual nature of humanities and its past associations and imagery that perhaps are now at fault. The image of a professor sitting around chatting with their students about some obscure fact is long gone, yet this visual remain in the mind of many and tarnishes what humanities are today. Despite that, studying a humanities subject will give a student the ability to think creatively, to question and analyse things.

Perhaps what is important here is that all subjects should be fully funded to make our students rounded citizens of the world. The economics involved to ensure all subjects remain on the syllabuses of schools and universities would be prohibitive, but it also raises the question of where should the imaginary line be drawn? Should governments decide that there is no need for artists in the world, arguing that they do not financially contribute significantly to a country’s finances? It could be argued that they have a point, yet what of the successful one? It would be nice to assume that individuals, parents and teachers are here to educate all those who want to learn giving them tools that will allow them to interpret the world in which we all live. But, to do this surely there is a need for individuals that understand not only how things work, but also to appreciate the beauty and creativity that surrounds us and enhances our daily lives?

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