By Rhea Kumar:
“What was your CGPA, beta?”
“Wow, a perfect score! Congratulations! So, will you opt for Biology or Computer Science in class XI?”
“Actually, I’m not planning to study Science.”
“Really? But why not beta? You must opt for Science when you’re so bright”. Then when I keep silent, “I guess you must be interested in Business and Accounts,so, Commerce then?”
“No, not really.”
A long pause ensues. Then, with amazement and a hint of disdain “ So, you’re planning to study ARTS then?”
I must have had this conversation at least a dozen times through the month of March, after my Class X results were declared and I announced that I wanted to opt for the Humanities stream. The reactions I encountered were always similar: shock, disapproval, despair and even some serious counseling. I must confess that hearing the same thing from so many people did cause some confusion in my mind and made me doubt my own choices at times. But I stuck to my guns and after a year in the “Idiot” section (this is how the majority of people view the Humanities stream), I am confident that I made the right choice.
The Humanities stream has been much maligned for many, many generations while Science has been considered a clearly superior and preferred option. I have tried to address below some of the common harbored misconceptions about Humanities and my responses to the same:
1. It’s an “Idiot” Stream: The common misconception is that Humanities is a stream for those who are not smart or intelligent enough to `get’ Science in school. That phenomenon is a thing of the past. Today, students opt for Humanities not because they feel they cannot `cope’ with Science but because the Humanities stream interests them and appeals to them. A quick survey of the Humanities students in any school today will reveal that some of the brightest students have opted for this stream. Why have they done that? A person studying Humanities often has a different mindset than someone who is studying Science. Humanities students are more aware and passionate about world affairs, social issues, politics, economics, human rights issues and so on.
The other point to keep in mind is while some of the students who opt for Humanities may not be academically bright in the conventional sense, they are often very talented in diverse fields such as music, fine arts, dance or sports. Does that make them any less intelligent? Anyone who is familiar with the Multiple Intelligence theory will know that intelligence transcends beyond academics. Today, a skilled violinist will be regarded as intelligent as someone else who aces every single Olympiad. So, just because some Humanities students may not get the best grades does not make them slow or dumb.
2. It’s an Easy Stream: In terms of course load, Humanities is somewhat `lighter’ than Science but by no means is it a cakewalk or a `breeze’. A comparison with Commerce would put the two streams almost at par in terms of course work, especially where Humanities students have also chosen to study Mathematics and Economics.
Gone are the days when most Humanities subject required only rote learning and memorizing facts, figures and dates. The examination pattern today is radically different in the Humanities stream. To score well, one needs to go beyond the textbook and be abreast of current affairs. History and Political Science may seem like subjects that rely on rote learning, but they definitely require critical thinking skills. History, today, is not just about a chronological study of dynasties and wars but also focuses on the events that shaped the lives of common people at different points of time. Political Science, today, is not confined to a study of the Indian government, but also requires an understanding of its similarities and differences to other political systems and the basic differences in ideology that have shaped these diverse forms of polity and society. So, while Humanities students may not spend every weekend in the stuffy confines of a coaching center, Humanities definitely requires a great deal of hard work and self-study!
3. It Limits Your Career Options: Today, career options go beyond Engineering, Medicine and Finance. Most engineers switch streams early on in their careers and move to finance or marketing. Why they choose to study engineering in the first place is always a mystery to me! In the last decade, there has been an explosion of non-conventional career options, many of which require a good grounding in Humanities rather than scientific knowledge. Mass Communication, Journalism, Design and Art, Rural Marketing, Law, Public Policy, Human Rights, Social Work are some of the career options that are available to Humanities students. These career options are not only interesting but also popular and lucrative.
Humanities with Mathematics is definitely a strong combination that leaves a lot of options open, including a career in Business or Finance. But even for those Maths-haters who chose to opt for a pure Humanities course, there is no reason to worry! A Liberal Arts background carries value in today’s world, with many colleges and employers looking for individuals who have a wider perspective on contemporary problems. Nothing gives you a wider perspective than an education in Humanities.
I feel lucky that I was able to opt for Humanities without facing any pressure from my parents and family. I feel it has enriched my life in many ways and given me life skills that will stay with me all through my life, beyond my years as a student. The heated discussions in Political Science have encouraged me to appreciate other points of view, even if I do not necessarily agree with them. History has taught me to learn from my past mistakes as well as achievements and helped me acknowledge the contribution of our ancestors to the world today. Economics has helped me understand the theory behind the economic phenomena and the government polices that we see around us every day.
I must state clearly that it is not my objective here to prove that the Humanities stream is superior to Science or Commerce. Every stream has its strengths and limitations, and students should choose streams according to their interests and career objectives, rather than only studying Science because it is the `done thing’. If Humanities genuinely interests you, do not be discouraged by the stigma that is often attached to this stream. Mindsets and attitudes in our society are changing and I’m sure the day is not far when the Humanities stream will also enjoy a pride of place in our education system.