by Natalie Lane Marshman
As our world rapidly changes, technology develops by the nanosecond, and our daily lives seem more focused on how quickly we can access information, rather than on the quality of the information itself, the study of literature seems an archaic and almost hedonistic pursuit. In a world of distractions, ringing phones, beeping e-mails, and Wikipedia entries, the sensation of reading a book and focusing on the language is harder and harder. Yet without it, we are truly lost. The purpose of the humanities is to allow us to explore the human condition and develop our minds analytically. It makes us creators, deep thinkers, analyzers, and above all, questioners. The world around us is transformed through the exchange of language, and being able to express our emotions, ideas, and arguments is the only way to transform our own lives and our own selves.
There is always a debate as to the place of humanities in a college education. Many people view college as a means to an end- as a necessary step to getting a high-paying job and thus choose to major in seemingly more practical areas. However, I don’t believe this is because people no longer passionately care about literature, arts, and ideas. I think in today’s world there is a new panic and fear of not getting a job due to the financial crisis, and this intensely competitive environment has made students doubt their own abilities. The new priority for many is just getting hired, but that doesn’t mean that the development of the mind should be left behind. Through the doubt, it is clear we need the humanities now more than ever- to allow us to read and understand the true power of the individual, and of beauty, truth, and life. The humanities are not an escape from the worlds of business, industry, and science but are a way for us to look at these pursuits with an ethical, critical, and analytical eye in order to better understand their purpose. The problems confronting us today are deeply complex and students who study the humanities have the capability to look at these problems from a variety of perspectives. As the world rapidly changes, business and science continue to require creative thinkers. The humanities are mentally demanding- the thinking is multidimensional and allows the student to become a creative problem solver, rather than a follower of directions or a rubric.
Literature is one of the most powerful and beautiful records of the human race, and studying it can transform one’s academic experience. We read and write to understand, to justify, and to confess, and without this reflection, there can be no internal or external progress. I first became enraptured with English when I was a senior in high school and saw the film “Dead Poets Society” which memorialized the English teacher John Keating and his famous words:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. (Weir, 1989)