“Arts degrees are useless” is what Google immediately suggests when you type “arts degrees” into its search bar. It is a swift condemnation, but one that highlights the general attitude of North Americans regarding the study of fields that fall along the liberal arts spectrum. When you consider the vast amount of time that is dedicated to studying the works of influential thinkers during high school and university, it seems absurd that a degree devoted to learning the type of critical thinking these individuals embodied would be held in such low regard. Given how much we owe to their contributions, the fact that arts degrees are considered useless must not be due to a lack of worth, but instead to a lack of commercial value.
Those brave enough to pursue an arts degree feel compelled to defend their studies by explaining to concerned friends and family members that it will be used as a “stepping stone” towards a more practical career, like law or medicine. Those without post-graduate aspirations often adopt a state of indifference during their university years, knowing that they will graduate with a mountain of debt that will be difficult to repay due to bleak career prospects. Without a degree that permits one to quickly enter into a workforce to contribute to an economy that is currently upheld by ancient societal structures, university graduates risk being looked at with disdain–as lazy hippies with heads full of impractical knowledge. In an attempt to avoid similar fates and to appease their fearful parents, high school graduates will often gravitate towards fields that will produce the greatest monetary pay-off following the completion of their degree, leaving fields that teach critical thought as a last resort.
Idea incubators and modern-day symposiums have made their mark in today’s professional arena, but are typically formed with the intention of selling products, and not in an attempt to impact the world in a pervasive way. The world is not void of people who are willing to critique and challenge the status quo, but a lack of cultural and financial support makes it difficult for them to reach the general population, leaving their theories and observations to disappear into an ocean of old and familiar ideas. It is difficult to devote time and energy to change when the degree that inspired such thought holds no weight in a world intent on keeping things the way they are.
If the depreciation of liberal arts degrees continues to dissuade students from entering into these fields, we risk societal stagnation with nowhere to look but to the works of big thinkers who lived during previous centuries. Technical careers and tangible advancements that are valued by the workforce are important, but to forgo the ideas that drive them, question them, and refine them is a terrible mistake. There needs to be a space for critical thinkers to be held in the same high regard. If a quick Google search is indicating that success is measured by income and not by the ability to think, now is the time for cultural restructuring.