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What Value Do We Place on The Humanities?

In the age of all things STEM, how relevant are the Humanities? What is someone with a degree in English Literature going to do, besides teach? Do you really need to know how to write, research or read if you are going to be a Scientist, Software Engineer or Electrician?

Of course, you do! In such a pivotal and exciting climate of STEM some might argue the relevance of English and the Humanities but I’m proud to say, not at Ambrose Treacy.

Geography excursion water treatment plant

In 1959, Prime Minister, Menzies wrote the foreword to a survey of The Humanities in Australia published for the then Australian Humanities Research Council. In his strong advocacy of the humanities, Menzies wrote that “history…tends to produce a sense of proportion; … languages… tend to produce a precise understanding of words and meanings; and philosophy…tends to explain the sources and nature of ideas and emotions”. Menzies also suggested that the humanities encourage “wisdom, a sense of proportion, sanity of judgment, [and] a faith in the capacity of [humankind] to rise to higher mental and spiritual levels”. Conscious of the focus of his time on the sciences and technology, Menzies urged that “humane studies must come back into their own; not as the enemies of science, but as its guide and philosophic friends”. Today, as we are also cognizant of the importance of promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, we need also to remember that the humanities are not hostile to those disciplines but are their “philosophic friends”.

History lesson - pyramid building

That term holistic education relates directly to the interconnectedness of learning and is central to the success we have gained in Literacy and Numeracy here at ATC. My colleague and counterpart, Mr Paddy Behan (Middle School Coordinator for STEM) and I work very closely, we share a common value for Middle School learning, discuss and observe each other’s techniques, while recognising and valuing repetition of learning across our departments. While Paddy and I might argue that we think differently (Math and English Brains) we would do so in jest – after all Paddy did win the Poetry Slam competition a few years ago. It’s absurd to think that Math does not incorporate creativity, or an English class does not endorse logical, analytical thinking. In 2014 Stanford researchers determined that, “…students of good English teachers, had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years.”

The research by Professor Han Baltussen (Professor of Classics) at the University of Adelaide, shows that attitudes can be remarkably consistent across time and space, and that there is much to learn from the interconnectedness of disciplines. Societal challenges are complex and won’t be solved by any one discipline. Humanities’ perspectives are critical contributions because these challenges are deeply human issues and involve attitudes which are steeped in culture, and in history.

There is a spectrum of reasons we value and study the humanities. From building skills in writing and critical reading, to dealing critically and logically with subjective, complex, imperfect information or “Fake News”. The humanities help us understand others through their languages, histories and cultures, to foster social justice and equality by revealing how people have tried to make moral, spiritual and intellectual sense of the world. In a world saturated by information the humanities teach us to weigh evidence sceptically and consider more than one side of every question.

History - Ancient Civilizations experiential learning

Transferrable skills form the basis of a Humanities education with surveys finding that students tend to be more confident in their critical thinking and communication skills, relative to those in other fields of education. According to a report in the Foundations for Young Australians (2016) surveys of employers echoed these findings, with Humanities-educated individuals exhibiting superior transferrable skills such as collaboration and enterprise skills.

Sometimes success comes through the content that we learn about in the Humanities. Always, it comes through the human connections that we make. How we make our students feel amidst the fun and the challenges is what keeps them taking risks. The study of humanities is important because human beings have to make decisions based on values. Even if the day arrives when every fact about the physical, technological and biological world is known, we will still face questions of equity, religion, and community—humanities’ questions.

Lisa Holohan
Humanities Faculty Coordinator