On the Arts and Humanities

February 3, 2016

I hope that this post doesn’t turn into too much of a rant – I’d like to remain calm, but every so often the morons who are charged with education policy in this country enrage me, and recent remarks on the supposed superiority of mathematical and scientific education, and deprecation of the arts and humanities, has made me see red again.

Basically, education, and particularly higher education, is supposed now to be seen only in terms of enhancing the future, immediate employability of students, and, of course, everyone wants to employ mathematicians and scientists and nobody needs those useless arts and humanities graduates, for what can they really, actually DO?

It’s become increasingly evident over the last generation that HE is now basically big business, not only for universities who now have to compete in the holy marketplace, but also for the spivs and chancers who can now get richer by providing ridiculously expensive and over-specified student accommodation and cream profits off student loans, especially now that contracts can be re-written after they’ve been signed…

I have nothing against scientists and mathematicians, having worked alongside them, and had many interesting and stimulating discussions with them throughout my career, and I didn’t really feel they thought my literature degrees were worthless…BUT, if being human is anything more than just being practical, then arts and humanities are just as valuable to us. Otherwise we might as well be ants, or replaced by robots. Karel Capek, where are you now?

Humans have the capacity to think, to reason, to reflect and to create; we produce marvels of art, literature and music as well as the wonders of scientific discovery and invention; cave dwellers learned how to master and use fire, and also to paint stunning images of themselves and their quarry. One did not happen without the other.

I always felt, and advised students accordingly, that to pursue what one felt passionate about was more important than merely to have an eye on instant employability and the cash machine; I have now to recognise that it’s not quite as simple nowadays in the days of student loans and debt, compared with my years of grants. The game has changed. We live (sadly I feel) in a much more utilitarian society, and maybe arts and humanities degrees are becoming the preserve of those whose parents’ pockets are deep enough to indulge them. But I still do find myself wondering about the employers’ take on it all: do they actually want to hire a brain, a mind that has been capable of a certain level of study and analysis, no matter what the discipline, or do they want someone die-cast in a specific mould?

What I do know is that we are all – as a nation and as a society – being diminished by what’s happening at the moment. We are a wealthy society that can allow study and talents in all academic disciplines to develop and flourish and we should encourage this; at the moment we are beset by government bean-counters who know the (alleged) cost of everything, and the value of nothing…

One Response to “On the Arts and Humanities”

  1. kirstwrites Says:

    Reblogged this on kirstwrites and commented:
    Couldn’t agree more with this post, so I’m re-blogging it on my own site.


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