Recent years have witnessed a rapid decline in emphasis on the arts in high schools and universities in favor of math and science courses. As a society, we have formed a distinct line between science and the arts, with many believing the optimal side is science. While there is value in teaching science and math courses, the arts are also essential to a quality education and should play a prominent role.
The humanities, or liberal arts, includes subjects such as English, History, Philosophy, Art, Music, and Theatre – all of which are incredibly valuable to students. More so than other courses, these subjects promote critical thinking and analysis, enable students to think and write clearly, and teach invaluable skills that can apply to virtually any job. The skills emphasized in these subjects allow students to empathize, navigate social relationships, and develop an understanding of themselves, others, and society as a whole.
According to Bradley C. Thompson in “Liberal Education and the Quest for Truth, Freedom, and Greatness”, studying the humanities ensures that humans are capable “[…] of understanding the world and man’s relationship to it; of distinguishing between true and false, good and bad, just and unjust, honorable and dishonorable”. The humanities enhance the skills that enable people to understand aspects of the world and the people around them. Sufficient knowledge in the humanities can enable a person to think broadly and potentially alter society for the better. Especially in a democracy such as the United States, society needs people who can differentiate between good and bad, or just and unjust.
There are also numerous studies that suggest the arts are greatly beneficial to students academically. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, low income high school students who were not exposed to the arts were over 5 times more likely to drop out of school. Furthermore, studies have shown that students who took art classes for four years scored an average of 91 points higher on their SATs than those who took art classes for a year or less. This indicates that there is tangible evidence that emphasis on the arts in schools can help students improve academically.
Additionally, the humanities can be used to enhance students’ understanding of other subjects, as discussed by Fareed Zakaria in In Defense of a Liberal Education. In 1988, Dr. Irwin Braverman, a professor at Yale Medical School, noticed that his students’ power of observation and diagnosis were weak. His solution was to take his students to an art gallery, where they were asked to “examine paintings, forcing them to unpack the many layers of detail and meaning in a good work of art”. As a result, Braverman found that his students “performed demonstrably better at diagnosis after taking the class”. The way that the humanities require deep analysis and examination demonstrates a level of deep, critical thinking that can be valuable in all aspects of life and can apply to numerous disciplines. This suggests that the arts can be highly beneficial to students, regardless of what degree they wish to pursue. In this way, emphasizing the humanities in education is invaluable to all students, no matter what their career goals may be.
For all these benefits, the arts need to take on a more prominent role in schools. The humanities teach skills essential to thriving in today’s society and can be extremely beneficial to the overall education of students. The arts should not be deemphasized in high schools and universities; they need to take on an equal role to science and math courses.