In a digital age, no one much cares that the humanities major is an endangered species. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in a report titled "The Heart of the Matter," makes the case that, like the natural sciences, the humanities feed "mental empowerment." True enough, but the report ignores important reasons why young men and women ignore a humanities major today. Tenured professors smother the beauty and truth of the ancients with arcane jargon, trading the wisdom from the forest for the weeds of multicultural and politically correct revisionism.
That's too bad. Without the passion that stirs the soul with great writing, it's easy to overlook the riches of a liberal arts education. When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, he noted that Apple's DNA was not made up of technology alone. "It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing," he said.
Jobs was not alone in recognizing that the high-tech employers seek innovators who employ imagination, metaphor and storytelling, all growing from the rediscovery of great works of literature. Michael Malone, author and teacher, tells of inviting a Silicon Valley high-tech entrepreneur to talk to his college writing class. When he told his visitor to go easy on the downside of life for an English major in a tech-savvy world, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur replied: "English majors are exactly the people I'm looking for." The battleground, writes Malone in The Wall Street Journal, has shifted from engineering to storytelling as the means of translating an idea into imagined reality. The study of fine writing and the arts opens the mind to a larger nature, to quality measured not by big data, but by big ideas.
"At a time when economic anxiety is driving the public toward a narrow concept of education focused on short-term payoffs," observes the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "it is imperative that colleges, universities and their supporters make a clear and convincing case for the value of liberal arts education." That's a hard sell to engineers, economists and politicians watching Detroit slide down the tubes, but there's merit in it. You should channel Steve Jobs.