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Opinion: STEM Is Important, But Humanities Teach How to Live

Opinion: STEM Is Important, But Humanities Teach How to Live

According to Damon Linker, correspondent at, the latest emphasis on STEM studies is a push to save an "anemic economy," but he urges educators to use an education in humanities to its fullest so the instruction does not fall by the wayside altogether.

"Finding a way for the liberal arts to break out of their downward spiral will be difficult. But surely the most promising approach will be one that emphasizes that studying the great books of world civilization is immensely useful after all — not necessarily for landing a high-paying job right after graduation, but for something even more important: learning how to live," he said.

Because majors in humanities studies don't necessarily guarantee a high-paying job, students are more likely to stay away from those majors in hopes to not be financially destitute after funding increasingly expensive endeavors in higher education.

For a liberal arts education to once again be a valuable component of learning, Linker says that educators need to correctly use the subject for its highest purpose: teaching how to live.

"The liberal arts can justify themselves as providing an education in how to choose among these ways of life, by exposing students to the answers that have been proposed by the greatest philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, and novelists in human history. That's a vision of usefulness that transcends income and career to encompass the whole of life."

Linker gives an example of how to do this via a lecture from professor Mark Lilla from Columbia University. In his lecture, Lilla uses a base of a wide range of classic texts and classifies them through "four distinct ways of life explored within them: that of the soldier, the sage, the saint, and the citizen."

Linker imagines a liberal arts education that uses this model and adds other ways of life for modern times "such as the entrepreneur, the scientist, the chief executive, the bourgeois, the bohemian, the activist, and so forth...Students would be introduced to various ways of life, as well as to a wide range of books and artistic expressions," he said.

Through such an education, he argues, students would not only have critical-thinking skills needed for the job market, they would also acquire valuable skills for the rest of their lives outside of work.

Read Linker's full article here and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


Do you agree with Linker's argument that liberal arts education needs revival?

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