Even STEM Students Need Humanities and Liberal Arts

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It’s easy to feel like an outsider if you are interested in humanities while everything and everybody around is focused on STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. In recent years, our nation has placed increasing pressure on STEM in order to encourage innovation and push America forward as a leader on the world stage. It doesn’t help to live in the Silicon Valley either, where there is a constant push and emphasis on STEM.

America has consistently been placing a greater emphasis on science and mathematical education because of our students’ lag in the international rankings. In alignment with our country’s vision, STEM degrees have been on the rise, meaning the percentage of student earning liberal arts degrees is lower than it has been in previous years. Liberal arts colleges themselves have also been decreasing.

Liberal arts does not necessarily equate to purely art and the humanities but rather, it is academic subjects distinct from professional and technical subjects. Math and physics technically qualify as liberal arts because at more advanced levels, they’re more theoretical than practical, but this is not the case at the high school level. STEM subjects, on the other hand, teach skills that can be built on and applied to specific occupations. This is also why they are commonly viewed as classes that are immediately practical in terms of one’s major or career.

Currently, at our school, students are not allowed to take more than one English class, but they can enroll in multiple science or mathematics classes at a time. When our curriculum is placing so much emphasis on STEM, it raises the question: Why do liberal arts matter at all?

From arts and humanities, students learn cognitive thinking, communication skills and how to synthesize and form opinions. These skills are used on a day-to-day basis and in the workplace as well. Employers today are looking for those skills, valuing them highly. Given these benefits, our school should place a greater emphasis on the arts and humanities than it is right now by offering more course selection options.

Many turn away from the pursuit of liberal arts education because of their fears that a liberal arts degree will earn less post-graduation. This fear is supported by the Wall Street Journal which surveyed different universities in an article and highlighted the disparity between liberal arts colleges and research universities.

However, they fail to note the importance of these areas of focus to the way our world functions. Liberal arts is extremely important to many careers and the sculpting of effective thinkers. Communicating ideas and thinking critically are significant skills valued around the world, and humanities classes help foster those vital skills. Science teacher Danielle Paige has felt the impact of liberal arts in her everyday life, too. At UC San Diego, she majored in biotechnology with a focus in English.

“I think that when people think of the word liberal arts they tend to just think of English,” Paige said. “Liberal arts means more than just English; it means art. And art plays an incredible role in really how we communicate visually as a society.”

Our school should be applauded for giving exposure to the humanities and arts through Writer’s Week and History Week in addition to STEM week, but there is more that can be done. Currently in Los Altos, the STEM curriculum offers a wide variety of courses and electives including Forensics, Biotech and Advanced Science Investigation, but we are missing out on the opportunity to give liberal arts minded students classes in philosophy, anthropology, and creative writing. Schools like Gunn have taken the initiative to add Classical Mythology, Escape Literature and Writer’s Craft classes to their course selection options. Los Altos should follow suit.

Both liberal arts and STEM curriculum are crucial to student education because they provide us with different knowledge and skill sets that equip us for the real world. It is important not to replace one with the other, especially because they interplay with each other so much. However, that is not the case currently, as STEM has been emphasized more and given the spotlight. Students should not focus solely on STEM, and to do that, our school should stress the humanities more. Although they may seem like opposite fields, humanities and STEM are compatible and should be studied in tandem.

Humanities can be the root of a great STEM education or career — providing the important knowledge of how to effectively communicate and synthesize facts learned — as one of the greatest STEM minds to have lived, Steve Jobs, talked about in his iPad 2 unveiling speech.

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing…” Jobs said.

Our school should offer a wider variety of humanities classes, as a liberal arts education clearly brings benefits that STEM classes do not always offer.