The humanities : an important field of study


By Tinky Ningombam

The other day I was having a conversation on how “Humanities” as a subject stream was mostly opted by young people who had an interest in either preparing for the Services or for those few who had an inclination for Liberal Arts.  Even at the times of research, most of the funds generally go to the fields that have the potential of direct or implied application. Humanities as a higher studies’ option, at least in our small state, is rated second in the field of study for many.

“The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and visual and performing arts such as music and theatre. The humanities that are also sometimes regarded as social sciences include history, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, cultural studies, law and linguistics. —Wikipedia”

From a recent article published in the New York Times, I learnt that that more and more countries including the US have cut down govt. research funds and allocations for Humanities and Liberal Arts. I know for a fact that for most students of other fields, this is an all familiar situation. We can also see that most of the world economies are spending more in scientific and engineering R&D than any other fields. All other implications of this aside, in the end, the worry of every student and every parent is arguably whether one is able to land in a high income job or not. Like it or not the obsession of a comparatively higher paying job lands many a student to the next shady self-proclaimed Management school or a medical school in the Artic Circle.

So, let’s just go straight and address the elephant in the living room. Why is a nursing course a preferred option for girls after medical schools? Apparently because of its job security and the also because it is a second option after the top-notch position of a being a doctor. Pardon my cynicism because I truly do believe that the medical profession is one of the hardest professions to pick. The amount of toil and hardwork that medical students put in to their studies and their careers and also the kind of sacrifices that they make in their daily lives is commendable. My only qualm, and I know I am not the only one who feels this, is the reason with when you would pick a profession that you don’t want. Why force yourself to do something for the rest of life and fail at being a good one at that? Because of your ego?

Why practically cut off all those years of youth in the pursuance of something that you are going to be miserable in the rest of your few remaining years of life?

Most successful people have always said only one and the same thing. Do not follow money, always follow your talents, then the money will follow. We work the other way round; Though it is hardly our fault actually. We are wired that way. Our increasingly expensive lifestyle makes us want nothing else but money and we become practical to the point of sacrificing our creative talents and inner calling for something that is profitable and more sale-able labor.

To pursue a talent is considered more elite more or else. Look at Manipur.  We have a distorted sense of “success”.  Success is synonymous to money, that’s how the modern civilized society rolls. If you drive 2-3 big cars, own a big house, spend long vacations abroad, that makes you successful. Lesser than that and you are still a middle class nobody.  And that is where the problem is. And the sad part is that it is not going away soon. The dream of upward mobility, of luxuries, of materialistic possessions is a seed sown through centuries of human existence. And these dreams shape the way we think, the way we “rate” people, the way how we shape the education system for the future.

Very few people will raise their kids to become singers or actors. People struggle for years before they become successful actors. It is a profession which few approve, even in this huge country. Even in Bollywood, most of the actors are star-kids. Maybe because they haven’t got anything to lose. Does this mean that it is the richer kids who go for Liberal Arts in their higher education?  Are the not-so-rich kids not supposed to waste their time for silly “hobbies”. That is not useful for their “vocational training,” the one that our education system has to regiment by choice or mere default of a rotten future employment system. Because let us face it, somehow we inherently believe that our education is training us more for our future jobs that we are going to hold rather than enriching our lives.

If we want to holistically develop a child’s mind, why are there not more emphasis in Humanities and Fine Arts? Why is scoring high in “History” or “Fine Arts” considered to be less important than scoring high in Applied Science? For that matter why haven’t we introduced Voluntary Social Work or Community Service for young kids? Why are children still spending all their time in science coaching classes rather than just group-reading in a library? We are looking at a displaced notion of education and a complete lack of supervision in making childhood enriching for the kids. I am not sure if any of you dear readers have spoken to the kids in high-school nowadays or the freshers who come to attend college outside of the State. Half of them do not know what they want to do in their lives, leave alone any idea of “critical thinking”, “cultural diversity” or “constructive dialogue”.  Most of them have also forgot what they learnt in school or any of these expensive coaching classes. So all the 12 years of “training” for most of them was just to get them scores on their final mark-sheets?

Time and again we have seen that in a struggling economy such as ours, most of the average students finally opt for technical studies later to get jobs where they get paid more and faster. And hence, we lay emphasis on technological skills and productivity. But this is exactly where the importance of Humanities needs to be made aware of.  Students should be encouraged in more interactive ways to understand how to value cultures and appreciate art, how to learn about human experiences and interactions, to learn about philosophies and critical thinking. Because besides everything else, what Humanities teaches us is to think critically, to reason and rationalize, to be liberal and diverse, to understand our past and perceive our future and above all how to have fuller and “aesthetic” life-experiences.


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