Opinion: Finding the ‘human’ in the humanities

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a junior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

“When am I going to use this?” I sometimes hear from fellow students about classes in the liberal arts. “I just want a job.”

What these job seekers must grasp is that the knowledge gained from this education will not only help them find a job, but also something more important.

At the job fair last week, I observed crowds of suits and ties dashing around the ballroom hungry for job opportunities. Surveying these keen-eyed students, I discovered that a whopping 45 percent of them were majoring in marketing, business management or computer science. Well, that makes sense; I was at a “job” fair, where employers are seeking potential employees with technical knowledge. But, I asked myself, where were all the liberal arts majors? I only spotted one history major and two psychology majors. Don’t students like myself want jobs, too?

Ever since the transition into the information age, there has been a tremendous surge in aim for technical degrees. Since 1970, the number of students acquiring a business degree has jumped from 14 to 22 percent, while English and history occupy around a low 3 percent each. The typical student now feels the overwhelming need to obtain a degree with pure economic value. They fear waddling in a menial job at Starbucks to pay off their immense debt. Why should one spend a fortune to expand their mind without concern to expand their wallet?

First of all, studies in the liberal arts — the arts, humanities and sciences — were never concerned with economic value. Taking root in the discoveries of the ancient Greeks, these studies determined someone as a “free” member of medieval society. The studies of rhetoric, grammar and logic aimed to produce a cultured, sophisticated man of learning; philosophy and the sciences were intended to elevate the mind, to create scholars and noble men. The free man — the “liberal” — was to be revered for his livelihood, not for his economical tact. Not until the modern age was there a struggle to keep this tradition alive.

It is, therefore, up to the liberal arts student to find this transition into the practical, i.e. the “real world.” They must use the fundamental skills they learn from Freud, Shakespeare or Aristotle and present them accordingly to survive in the job market.

Jennifer Floren, CEO of Experience.com, says that out of “all of the skills that are valued most [by employers], communication” makes the top mark. This makes sense in our age, as the world’s problems will never be solved without the understanding of others — what it means to be fully “human” — and how to communicate ideas efficiently.

Barry Kessel, multimillionaire business owner and former English major at Kent State, stated that the liberal arts “are really just learning about yourself” and how to “be yourself better.” I agree. One must wonder why the university requires us to sit through classes in psychology and U.S. history, as we all must experience these studies to graduate. The purpose, as Kessel suggests, is to “find one’s self.”

This is how one must approach the task of job searching. By expanding one’s mind, they can realize that “finding a job” is better defined as finding a position in a democratic society — to understand what it means to be a “free” individual. This discovery will only increase the economic value of their degree, and that’s the use in it. It is the most important notion to realize that your place in society cannot simply be bought. It must be found.