Everyone remembers that first week of college. It’s a hodgepodge of moving in, figuring out where things are, way too many icebreakers and question after question. Where are you from? What’s your major? What do you want to do with that?
The ‘what do you want to do with that’ question isn’t always a given — it depends on the major. If the major is biology or chemistry, the question is generally assumed to be irrelevant, because it’s widely accepted as “practical” and usually leads students to a pre-med or research track. It’s inconceivable as a naive little freshman that come mid-Junior year, the desire to study medicine has completely vanished. And, now you’re in the process of switching majors to Chicano studies, so that you can go to Mexico this summer to conduct research with that super cool professor that taught your intro Gen. Ed. class. All that’s left now, is to say an official adios to the MCAT and break the news to the parental unit.
At holiday parties, extended family members never condemn someone who claims they want to be a doctor or a lawyer. However, the praise is rarely extended to history majors, a “non-useful” foreign language, or pretty much anything with “studies” at the end of it. It seems as though people have forgotten that the world as we know it functions with a balance of both the humanities-inclined and scientific or math-inclined.
The stigma attached to the arts is not solely the fault of extended family members at family functions. It’s also due to a decrease in funding worldwide for the arts and humanities, and an increase in funding for STEM fields at higher-learning institutions. There are a myriad of reasons for the increase in STEM funding, which can be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s webpage dedicated to STEM. The cliff notes version of the page is basically that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science, and Obama wants to invest in STEM to foster growth in the public sector (teaching and government jobs) and the private sector (biomedical engineers and tech jobs).
Sounds great, right? It is actually a great idea — I can’t think of more than three truly exceptional math or science teachers that I had during my K-12 education. If students are only getting three out of twelve years of solid math or science, then it surely makes it harder to pursue a career as an engineer or mathematician. Clearly, it is important for special attention to be paid to fostering growth in STEM fields, but that doesn’t mean that language, arts and theater programs should not get the same TLC.
Students that decide to pursue screenwriting or foreign language deserve the same amount of respect as students pursuing medicine or law and shouldn’t have to defend their choice of study. It’s imperative that people start realizing that the students studying these areas are the ones who will be helping promote cultural literacy in the form of our future authors, foreign correspondents and teachers. Regardless of if you’re a right-brained, left-brained or one of those annoyingly perfect people who can claim both, the field of study that you choose does not and should not define you. As many of us find out shortly after walking the stage for commencement, the degree you earned doesn’t matter nearly half as much as that your naive little freshman self thinks it does. Jaded? Maybe. Real? Overwhelmingly so.