I was a Humanities Major before I knew what a Humanities Major was.
Growing up, I was that little boy no one quite knew what to do with. I didn’t want go play sports, I didn’t want to run or be chased, and I didn’t want to roughhouse. I didn’t want to go outside at all if I could avoid it – I wanted to be in the library, or the art class, or the music room; I wanted to be reading or writing or drawing or singing, with a group if need be, but alone preferably. Usually, I got tossed outside with the rest of the kids, which usually meant spending an hour or so being miserable… but every so often – usually the last week of school, after all the exams were over and the text books were turned in – I’d get to assist the librarian or aid the music teacher, and when I was done, I could stay and read, write, draw, and/or sing. The one good thing about leaving grade school and entering junior high was never having to suffer through recess again.
(It didn’t occur to me I’d need a year and a half minimum of some sort of PE credits to get my diploma, which is why there is two years of JROTC on my high transcripts – better the Army than Dodgeball.)
It’s a bit of a humblebrag, but I only had to attend one day of my English 102 course in junior college. The teacher read my first essay, pulled me outside into the hallway. “You don’t need this class. Type up your assignments and as long as you turn them in on time, you never need to step foot in my class again.” I was stunned, then thrilled, and finally inspired. I wrote up essays on how the world would be a better place if we all went back to taking afternoon naps, the time a German Shepherd almost tore off my right leg, and the proper technique for eating a Hostess Cupcake, earning myself the most fun A of my entire college career.
I was an Art Major, then a Music Major, then back to being an Art Major… which means while I know the difference between chiaroscuro and contrapposto, I also know the difference between a single R and a double R in Italian diction; and since I took Theatre Dance as part of vocal performance training, I can also tell you the difference between Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp while still being able to explain the difference between leading vs kerning as it applies to desktop publishing. All through college, it was imperative that I not just be able to spit out names of movements and theories on a paper test, but be able to show or articulate those movements and theories in my art.
Come to find out, being able to write imaginative yet concise sentences, being able to explain concepts simply, and being able to communicate both verbally and with the written word… are pretty great skills to have in the corporate world. Which is why it’s interesting these are skills not taught in business or finance classes.
Last July, Bennat Berger of Novel Property Ventures wrote an assay for Entrepreneur titled “How Humanities Degrees Cultivate Marketable Business Skills.” In the essay, Berger points out that Humanities Majors are often well versed in critical analysis, have extensive knowledge of past works, and have studied how people think. Liberal Art Majors have been taught to study technique and form, then go outside the box for a fresh perspective. English Majors are experts communicating ideas, often utilizing narrative, plot, and metaphors to achieve success.
In the business world, reading, writing, speaking well, understanding people, and understanding group dynamics are all considered soft skills… and yet these are the skills that the business world needs the most to succeed to the fullest. Berger posits there is no coincidence that the current and former CEOs or Avon, Xerox, Disney, and MTV all have English degrees, or that the head of American Express has a History Degree, or that the founder of Starbucks has a degree in Philosophy.
Humanities are not a dead end pursuit, only resulting in either academia or a career as a barista – the skills and talents Humanities majors bring are key to corporate success. So by all means, go for that MBA… just consider adding a Philosophy or History minor to your students… and once you’re out in the corporate world, consider hiring English or History majors into your departments. If the trends are correct, you will be very happy that you did.