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s/o STEM discussion: the so-called "ease" of the Humanities


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Something has been bothering me in the STEM discussions. We can all agree that math, physics, and chemistry are challenging subjects that require a certain mental discipline to master. Yet it seems that some dismiss the humanities as being of a lesser caliber. And so I ask:

 

If foreign languages are so easy to master, why are we not all trilingual?

 

How is the discipline of a STEM student different than that of a music major who must practice his instrument several hours daily and master the rigor of music theory?

 

If philosophy is simple to understand, then why do we not see posters on the General Board debating the nuance of Kant or Kierkegaard (as opposed to the latest "news" story made viral via Facebook)?

 

Computing integrals in a Calculus class may require some head scratching but so does writing a ten page paper on King Lear. The former may help us develop a good tool for science, but the latter gives us a view of the human condition. A good tool for life?

 

Perhaps the argument against the humanities has less to do with ease and more to do with grade inflation. Or perhaps American Pragmatism lies at the root of the discussion. Knowing how to find the center of mass of a solid is practical, whereas a discussion of meter in poetry is considered frivolous (?).

 

Sorry--feeling cranky this morning.

 

Jane the Curmudgeon

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Something has been bothering me in the STEM discussions. We can all agree that math, physics, and chemistry are challenging subjects that require a certain mental discipline to master. Yet it seems that some dismiss the humanities as being of a lesser caliber. And so I ask:

 

If foreign languages are so easy to master, why are we not all trilingual?

 

How is the discipline of a STEM student different than that of a music major who must practice his instrument several hours daily and master the rigor of music theory?

 

If philosophy is simple to understand, then why do we not see posters on the General Board debating the nuance of Kant or Kierkegaard (as opposed to the latest "news" story made viral via Facebook)?

 

Computing integrals in a Calculus class may require some head scratching but so does writing a ten page paper on King Lear. The former may help us develop a good tool for science, but the latter gives us a view of the human condition. A good tool for life?

 

Perhaps the argument against the humanities has less to do with ease and more to do with grade inflation. Or perhaps American Pragmatism lies at the root of the discussion. Knowing how to find the center of mass of a solid is practical, whereas a discussion of meter in poetry is considered frivolous (?).

 

Sorry--feeling cranky this morning.

 

Jane the Curmudgeon

 

 

I don't see it as feeling cranky. ;) I think you're correct. To me, my English classes were more difficult than my math/science classes and I enjoyed the math/science more. I'm artistically challenged, so never took art beyond 8th grade and am REALLY glad it wasn't a component of standardized testing. My parents were both music majors who went on to teach in ps - yet they recognized early that it wasn't my calling and let me quit piano lessons in first grade. I'm thankful. (I did have to learn to play a different instrument.)

 

I think it's all a matter of different strokes for different folks. When one finds their niche, it helps make the world go around in a great way.

 

However, society likes to assess and place values on things. Somewhere in time people decided math/science and English (specifically reading comprehension and writing - not really poetry, etc) were the "best" and the others were lesser. Rocket science and brain surgery got elevated. Musician and artist were extras. Garbage collecting might as well be tax collecting. Then we valued people based upon what they did. It's sad. I don't know that it's due to necessities or pragmatism in life. We need garbage collectors far more often than brain surgeons. Perhaps instead it is "awe" of those who can do what the majority can't - be it high level musicians, actors or higher level math/science based jobs. We (collective) feel they must be "better" since they can do what we can't. Yet, as you mention, other fields don't inspire awe (yet still have difficulty), so my thoughts have holes too.

 

My boys met a man a couple of years ago who wouldn't tell people what he did, specifically telling them he wanted to be judged for who he was rather than what he did. (He didn't have a "low end" job either.) That man has it right... and it was a good lesson for my boys.

 

I'm continually having to remind my youngest that his gifts of noticing nuances in the biological/natural world are just as important to our planet as his brother who succeeds in the more "accepted" way with math/science/English. My youngest will likely have lower stats on standardized tests than middle son, but as a person he is equal. In his own realm/field, he will be "better." Since I'm a Christian I'll go on and add that God created them each for the spot he wants them to fill. They shouldn't allow man's assessment to change what they feel called for (but they should have a feasible plan to have a niche in life).

 

And as a math teacher (sub) one of the first things I'll tell new (to me) students in lower level math classes is that being math challenged is NOT a crime nor will I look down upon them for it. I then go on to say that failure to work with me and be polite and other such things IS an issue and won't be tolerated. I see the measure of a student not in which math class they are capable of, but in how they interact with fellow humans. Then we'll work on math... and when I draw something, I remind them to use their imagination and my words to pretend it is what I say it is. ;)

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In the original article I didn't get that vibe as much as humanities tend to be more interesting.

 

I'm guessing that most humanities majors don't really learn a foreign language either as that is another area where the work is intense and you must learn it exactly as it is.

 

Other humanities have more play in them (like interpreting a work of lit). And as the article pointed out grading math is generally more yes/no and there are few places for flare to show up and give you extra points (although I did have folks who gave more credit it you had done the right process but messed up a calculation somewhere causing a wrong answer).

 

I will note that I did see grade inflation in math classes. I had an upper level stat class where a graduate student asked if the undergrads and grad students would be on the same curve. Now, this wasn't a class for just stat students but certain humanities grad students were require to take it. The professors end answer was that we would not be on the same curve because in this class if he did that, he'd have to fail grad students (because the undergrads were the geeks who like stat vs. being forced to take it).

 

I've been pondering these articles from a slightly different angle. I left chemistry as a major because the first lab had parts that scared the pants off of me. We had to measure a very small portion of very strong acid from a gallon container into a very small calibrated container. Even masked, gloved, and heavily apron, this was too much for me and at 18 I wasn't savvy enough to find out if I would ever have to do this again or ask why the acid wasn't put into smaller containers for us.

 

I've never heard this sort of story before, but it does make me wonder.

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I haven't read any threads and I might have seen the article (if SWB linked it on FB yesterday, I read it. Can someone link to it here in case it's something else ?)

 

I have an engineering degree. I observed in college that none of the non-STEM (we did not call it than back then) majors had to get through any "weed-out" classes. They just did not have to take any classes with ridiculous amounts of technically challenging homework and 50+% failure rates.

 

BUT...

 

It all depends on what you are good at. Although I had to repeat three of my weed-out courses and spent time on academic probation...when I have nightmares about having to take an exam in a class I have not been attending and haven't done any reading or studying for, and wake up in a cold sweat......nine times out of ten it is a history or literature class, because for me, those were the most difficult classes to get through. My mind just does not wrap well around abstract things. (The other 1/10 dreams are about a biology class...my weakest area of science.)

 

I do agree that universities seem to try to make the STEM classes very hard to get through. And really, they should be. When you enter those professions, other people's safety and even lives may very well be your hands. On the other hand, liberal arts classes can be very difficult for someone whose mind does not process those subjects well.

 

I shudder at the thought of having to write a long formal paper about a novel or period of history. I really don't think I have the ability to do it. I would rather design a chemical plant from scratch. Or clean up roadkill. Really. My hat is off to people who can write long formal papers about these things. Or books ! And I see value in all kind of minds and skills. I cannot imagine life in a world in which everyone had a mind (and personality) inclined toward math, science and engineering. Gah.

Edited by laundrycrisis
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Well... I guess I do see those classes as easier. It is a lot easier to fudge on interpretation. You can write a so so research paper. You cannot fake it in Calculus II. ( Not that I would know since I never even took Calculus.)

 

That said, it wasn't necessarily easy. And easy is different in different ways. As a music major, yes theory was tough, but what was tougher for me is that my classes took from 8-5 every day including Fridays while my friends were only going from 8-12. Then I had to spend hours practicing voice and piano in addition to reading for my history and English classes. The pace was grueling. Choir counted for 1 hour, but took at least 10 a week. Piano counted for one hour, but took at least 10 a week in practing. Voice was 2 hours but took at least 10 if not more. Etc. I had SO many more classes than my other friends. But it still counted for only 15. Then listening to music for the drop the needle tests. UGGH! I hated music by the end of my second year. I made good grades in theory and my teacher was surprised I was quitting as a music major.

 

When I changed my major to secondary ed major with concentrations in English and history, it was a different kind of hard. One semester I had a Shakespeare class and we covered a different play every week, another English class with 5 novels, a history class with 5 novels, and another history class with 4 novels. Then I had an education class where they gave us topics to teach. We had to get up in front of the class and they would pretend to be students, even having been given assignments from our teacher like to try to cause a fight with another student or to ask to go to the bathroom. I read constantly. My business/accounting majors told me I never studied that I just read.:tongue_smilie: I'm glad I was already a speed reader before I got there. Hard, well sort of, but not accounting class type hard.

 

Christine

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I was an English major. To be quite frank, I don't think it's so much that the humanities are easy as much as US colleges & universities, for the most part, MAKE the humanities easier because they can. High schools dumb their work down to make sure more students pass so they don't get in trouble with NCLB and such. Universities don't have to worry about teaching to the test and all, but they DO want your tuition money! The humanities CAN be very difficult - look at the rigor we expect from the humanities in classical education. But they are much easier to dumb down than empirical STEM majors. Not saying this is the only problem, but it's sure one of them.

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Something has been bothering me in the STEM discussions. We can all agree that math, physics, and chemistry are challenging subjects that require a certain mental discipline to master. Yet it seems that some dismiss the humanities as being of a lesser caliber. And so I ask:

 

If foreign languages are so easy to master, why are we not all trilingual?

 

How is the discipline of a STEM student different than that of a music major who must practice his instrument several hours daily and master the rigor of music theory?

 

If philosophy is simple to understand, then why do we not see posters on the General Board debating the nuance of Kant or Kierkegaard (as opposed to the latest "news" story made viral via Facebook)?

 

Computing integrals in a Calculus class may require some head scratching but so does writing a ten page paper on King Lear. The former may help us develop a good tool for science, but the latter gives us a view of the human condition. A good tool for life?

 

Perhaps the argument against the humanities has less to do with ease and more to do with grade inflation. Or perhaps American Pragmatism lies at the root of the discussion. Knowing how to find the center of mass of a solid is practical, whereas a discussion of meter in poetry is considered frivolous (?).

 

Sorry--feeling cranky this morning.

 

Jane the Curmudgeon

 

Well, my dear friend, I'm going to be on the side that majoring in engineering is a lot harder and a lot more time consuming than my non-STEM degree. My view is based on the fact that dh and were engaged and married throughout college and comparing my daily experience to his at the uni near and dear to your heart. ;)

 

You know what, I went to bed around 10-12 most nights w/the odd exception. He was up dong engineering problems until around 3 am every single night. We both than started our days attending 750 am classes.

 

He put in at least 2x as many outside class work hrs on his assignments as were required of mine.

 

I think the reason that there are fewer STEM graduates than other fields is that earning the degree requires a lot more time-commitment to the assignments. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;):D

Edited by 8FillTheHeart
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Well, my dear friend, I'm going to be on the side that majoring in engineering is a lot harder and a lot more time consuming than my non-STEM degree.

 

...

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;):D

 

Hey girlfriend,

 

My undergrad memories include working just as hard in four semesters of German as I did in my math courses. My hardest undergrad course was something that Choirfarm also mentioned, Shakespeare, in which we too covered a play a week. A single reading of the play did not prepare one for class. Everything had to be read two or three times in order to succeed. (I did not know it back then but I believe I was applying some WEM techniques!)

 

I'll admit to Social Science prejudice. I took a bare minimum of courses in the Social Sciences but even there I remember the workload in Comparative Government: readings from texts, weekly Christian Science Monitor journals (back then one of the few available resources for international news), term papers.

 

Perhaps part of this is who I am. It never occurred to me to fudge papers. (I really am that naive.)

 

Heigh Ho wrote:

You can see it an the high school level too - unaccelerated kids are taking AP courses in the humanities as freshmen.

 

This surprises me. The public schools where I live offer few AP courses and then only to juniors and seniors.

 

One thing that always irked me though about STEM classes: We had considerably more contact time in classrooms and labs than in our humanities/social science classes, yet did not receive credit for all of these hours. I think this is one reason that STEM students have to burn the midnight oil.

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All I know is that my friends who majored in psych, history, literature, or music seemed to have a lot more free time than I had while maintaining excellent GPAs.

 

That said, my STEM boys (and I would have to include myself and my dh) would much rather work 25 calculus problems than write a 10 page research paper on the literary merits of XYZ.

 

And I'm sure that the humanities students would feel similarly (in the opposite orientation, of course).

 

FWIW, I'm certainly happy that God has given different folks different talents/gifts/abilities and desires. A world full of STEM folks would be stark and boring. No bridges, no cars, no technology - a world full of humanities folks.

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Well... I guess I do see those classes as easier. It is a lot easier to fudge on interpretation. You can write a so so research paper. You cannot fake it in Calculus II. ( Not that I would know since I never even took Calculus.)

 

:iagree:

 

I double-majored in math and English as an undergrad.

The English courses had very few prereqs where an upper-level math course had a significant number of courses you would have to have passed before you could enroll.

 

With a math course, your grade was generally determined by your work.

 

With an English course, your grade really depended on your instructor. The same work would get a different grade depending on who was teaching - but I don't think I ever heard of anyone failing an English course. I'm sure it must have happened... but I don't think it did often as long as papers were turned in.

 

The good English classes definitely made you think. And I had the most amazing Shakespeare professor. But if I fell behind in an English class, I could catch up later. I could take English courses out of order. When I fell behind in Abstract Algebra, that was it for that year.

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:iagree:

 

I double-majored in math and English as an undergrad.

The English courses had very few prereqs where an upper-level math course had a significant number of courses you would have to have passed before you could enroll.

 

With a math course, your grade was generally determined by your work.

 

With an English course, your grade really depended on your instructor. The same work would get a different grade depending on who was teaching - but I don't think I ever heard of anyone failing an English course. I'm sure it must have happened... but I don't think it did often as long as papers were turned in.

 

The good English classes definitely made you think. And I had the most amazing Shakespeare professor. But if I fell behind in an English class, I could catch up later. I could take English courses out of order. When I fell behind in Abstract Algebra, that was it for that year.

 

:iagree:

This was my experience as well, esp. the bolded.

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Hey girlfriend,

 

My undergrad memories include working just as hard in four semesters of German as I did in my math courses. My hardest undergrad course was something that Choirfarm also mentioned, Shakespeare, in which we too covered a play a week. A single reading of the play did not prepare one for class. Everything had to be read two or three times in order to succeed. (I did not know it back then but I believe I was applying some WEM techniques!)

 

I'll admit to Social Science prejudice. I took a bare minimum of courses in the Social Sciences but even there I remember the workload in Comparative Government: readings from texts, weekly Christian Science Monitor journals (back then one of the few available resources for international news), term papers.

 

Perhaps part of this is who I am. It never occurred to me to fudge papers. (I really am that naive.)

 

Heigh Ho wrote:

 

This surprises me. The public schools where I live offer few AP courses and then only to juniors and seniors.

 

One thing that always irked me though about STEM classes: We had considerably more contact time in classrooms and labs than in our humanities/social science classes, yet did not receive credit for all of these hours. I think this is one reason that STEM students have to burn the midnight oil.

 

I never "fudged" anything. It wouldn't have occurred to me either! I figured I was paying a lot of $$ for my education, so I was going to get the most out of it. I am not suggesting that I didn't work hard. I did. I spent hrs in the stacks researching. I spent hours writing my papers (and having to re-type them b/c of the days before word processors!!! It wouldn't have taken as long if editing could have been done on a computer!!)

 

Anyway, I worked hard on what I did. But, the reality is that doing research for papers and writing a paper is not cut and dried w/only a single correct outcome. I could "find" what I needed and form an opinion on my research. That is far different than problem-solving where the correct answers require complete individual understanding. I am in a hurry and am not articulating my thoughts here the way that I want. But, I am hoping that you understand. :tongue_smilie: I honestly don't think what I did was hard.....more just took time to do in order to do them well. Dh's courses were both.

Edited by 8FillTheHeart
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We often have this debate in our house as one dd is a humanities major. I still think dh and I worked harder as STEM but, she has more time for extra-curricular commitments. That said, when I was doing my thesis, I used to work with fellow students in the classics library b/c I felt they worked harder, with more concentrated effort. They were definitely quieter. Most of the honors graduates in our class were humanities majors. The few STEM majors that graduated with honors were known for their impossible schedules and work loads.

I was a "closet" lit. major. I found those classes to be a wonderful break from the grind of lab reports and equations. However, my dh hated his humanities classes and my roommate had to be nursed through Shakespeare in order to pass. For me, the balance was one of the real gifts of a liberal arts education.

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I was a "closet" lit. major. I found those classes to be a wonderful break from the grind of lab reports and equations. However, my dh hated his humanities classes and my roommate had to be nursed through Shakespeare in order to pass. For me, the balance was one of the real gifts of a liberal arts education.

 

Same here. Between college classes and my job, I did not have time for reading outside of the weekly New Yorker cartoons. ;) Thus I took a literature course just about every semester of college so that I would have scheduled reading time!

 

My husband, also a math major, took literature and religion classes for his break from math, physics and German (in which he minored).

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I don't necessarily think of Humanities as easier, though maybe they are at some institutions, just different. At my LAC, they were easier for me because of the subjectivity in grading. It seemed there was a broader scope of acceptable answers and since I was an excellent writer, I was capable of knowing not all that much about a subject and still manage to come up with an answer that satisfied the professor. But, we were challenged to think on a critical level, just different. I found math and science classes required, more studying because there was ONE right answer and you better know it and present it in that ONE right way and show all your work and never miss a step because even if you get the right answer you might be marked down for not showing every little step and that wasn't always easy to accomplish in the exam time given. I found my math and science profs to be far less "humanitarian" when dealing with students than in the humanities (English, History, Philosophy) where they seemed to care just a little about you as a human being...obviously, this is not true at every school.

 

As for Music, Jane, just to let you know...though music is listed as a humanity, music is actually a mathematical discipline or a subset of math. Because it is so "creative" it gets listed under the humanities. Now that said, I will tell you that at a competitive school, the most demoralizing, most difficult, most heinous majors there are on the campus are pure art (not art history majors or art education, but art as "performance" if that makes sense) and music performance with piano and violin being the absolute killers. The rub is that it's every single bit as intensive as engineering and the like, but it is also subjectively graded and every single year you have a jury. (The reason that piano and violin are the worst is because of competition for spots and keeping those spots - these are the two most common instruments for students to take personal lessons on.)

 

A jury is an audition with oral questioning before a board of the entire music faculty. You play 3-5 prepared pieces from memory, plus they can call out any of the 24 scales (the minors come in 3 forms so in all actuality, there are 24 subsets of minor scales in natural form) which had to be played allegretto (108 being the minimum on the metronome) at 32nd note speed (for sophomores, they were sometimes kind to the freshman and allowed them to run them at 16 note speed - 4 to a beat, 32nd notes are 8 to a beat) and they had to be played in four octaves and in any inversion they called out. So, for my freshman jury I had to play the F# minor melodic scale in thirds which meant that my left hand began on F#, my right hand on A, and then because my piano professor felt I was capable of it, I was required to play them at 114/116 on the metronome in 32nd notes. (You might want to google a metronome and have it tick off beats at 114/116 and then imagine putting 8 notes into everyone of those beats while the entire faculty stands behind you and watches for fingering and execution errors and their evil ears tick off any wrong notes). After that two other scales done in similar fashion, arpeggios, and then sight reading. My sight reading was a Brahms piece - piano literature being rated on a scale of 1-5 (introductory and intermediate - student literature) and 6-10 being advanced with concert level repetoire beginning at 8. Freshmen were required to sight read at an 8 for the jury. I was counting on that for my high score because I am a world class sight reader and an 8 would have been breezy in comparison to most players. However, because the entire faculty knew this, they decided to arbitrarily up the ante and make it a 10! This was followed by my prepared pieces in which one had a judging sheet and copy of the music - Back French Suite, Mozart Fantasia, Debussey's Claire de Lune, and some Bartok piece I hated and promptly forgot (all were played from memory).

 

An 85% was the coveted score because otherwise you were demoted to a music minor and drummed out of the performance program. No mercy. I vomitted before going into my jury and I vomitted after I left - the stress was so intense, I found one of my friends curled up in a ball underneath one of the practice pianos and refusing to come out. She eventually quit the program.

 

One had to wait three days to find out your score because the professors, if the scores were close, would argue back and forth about their "teacher's pets" to try and keep them in the program. I didn't eat for five days...two days before and the three days after. That was common. Eating disorders, insomnia, depression, that was the NORM for the piano and string majors. The art majors listened to insult upon insult upon insult about their works, were driven to paint, scult, draw, whatever for days on end without sleep, etc. I've never seen a more crazed group of human beings in all my life than the art majors preparing for a gallery show. Of all of the professors I knew, the art professors were literally the most evil. It was as if the students were their personal property to abuse at will. It was gruesome. So few slots in these two majors, so many talented people wanting them. That kind of situation makes abuses become acceptable. So, many of them turned to drinking to douse their sorrows. A lot of music majors were addicted to uppers or at least caffeine pills. That's how many of them, not me....I stood strong against it, managed to practice the required 28 hrs. per week and manage 18-21 credit hrs. per semester - yes, music performance degrees generally require more credits to graduate than any other major on campus so you always take greater than a full load in order to graduate on time and be ready for concerto competitions. I will say that prior to entering college I never drank coffee. By the end of my first semester, I was a three pot per day person! I'm pretty certain most of us had fairly shot adrenals long before we ever graduated.

 

I went to a top tier LAC. I've been told that if I'd attended the conservatory that I got into (only a half ride scholarship so I couldn't afford to go), it would have been better because the conservatories aren't typical colleges and so all of the Gen Ed and what not that I was taking on top of the music stuff would have been far less rigorous or even non-existent).

 

Let's put it this way. I weighed 103 lbs and wore a size 3 when I left for college. At the end of the first semester I weighed 92 and my parents flipped. My mom had to buy some size 0 pants for me at a specialty shop. That's the way it was. There was never time to eat. The music department scheduled you non-stop and you had to get that 28 hrs. a week of practice in on top or all the other classes requirements. It meant that we were never available to eat when the cafeteria was open. I survived whole weeks on granola bars and apples. Sometimes I slept on a practice room floor instead of going back to the dorm for the night. It meant I could get in some early morning practicing before security came around to unlock the doors. I don't know of any other majors that felt as undergrads that they had to lock themselves into the labs or whatever in order to make it to graduation.

 

So, to put this into perspective. I've never heard a STEM major prior to grad school (I'm sure that once medical school begins they have it every bit as bad as we music and art people did) complain of that level of rigor or pressure and I know they feel a lot of it. Most STEM and Humanities are not structured to be that evil. Yes, there are weeding out classes in most disciplines, but there isn't the vicious weeding out, the personal insults hurled by the faculty while you play or paint, etc. that goes with music performance (no, music education and sacred music majors did not have it that badly...only performance) or art. We were considered worthless, untalented, slime that should be grateful that such gloriously amazing people would lower themselves to your paltry level and work with us and we should be eternally indebted to their mercy at allowing us to even have a lesson with them. (The scene from Tiger Mom when that Eastern Europeon piano professor was hollering insults at Lulu - that's was my normal life in college). Only, I repeat ONLY, when a "teacher's pet" was so depressed, so utterly worn and unable to find the strength to go on, and announcing that they were leaving the department and majoring in a "human" field (by that we meant anything else besides performance and art because we could not imagine a single major possibly being worse) would we receive even the slightest word of encouragement. I remember very vividly the first time my piano professor said to me, "You have done well today." I went to my dorm room and cried for an hour. It was half way through the second semester of my freshman year!

 

I received, in case you are interested, a 96% on my freshman jury. This was 25 years ago. I still hold the record at that institution for the highest jury score ever. :D Yes, I'm ashamed to say, they drilled competitiveness into me so badly that when it comes to music, I've never quite been able to shake it, and I call every year after jury scores have been posted to see if anyone has bested me. (I should probably attend counseling for this!) Sad to say though, the institution has dropped in standing quite a bit in recent years so I'm not certain what quality of performance major I'm still competing against. ;)

 

So, all of that to say, STEM is, well competitive and it's pressure filled and it's hard on students. I am sure that there are many Humanities majors that have that kind of pressure too but just expressed very differently. I wouldn't say that the classes especially beyond GEN ED and what not, are easy, just different. But, no matter what, I seriously doubt any major on campus has it as badly as the artists and piano/violin majors! :001_smile:

 

Faith

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Faith,

I just want to thank you for that absolutely fascinating look into a music performance major. I have read some of your earlier Posts about it as well. I just started taking piano lessons again with my children's wonderful teacher, and she has commented on how most of the people she know who majored in music performance ended up hating music. And that it's the retired attorneys and doctors who enjoy the piano the most because they actually have time to practice! In 40 years of teaching she has never recommended to one of her students to pursue a career in music because of how brutal it is. I can now see why :)

Thanks again.

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I went to an engineering school. We talked about school work day and night. There were a few Humanities majors, management mostly. They were considered not challenging.

 

But as bad as all the engineering and science majors had it, the Architecture students had it much much worse. They lived in the Greene building during the weeks up to the portfolio reviews. I don't know when or if they ate ever. We never saw them.

 

So if the engineering and science majors put in 80 hour weeks on school work, the Architecture students were well over 120. We were astounded by how much effort it took to get that grade. At least we knew when we got the answer correct, they were at the mercy of profs and nebulous grading criteria.

 

If Architecture is a humanities major then they were not remotely easy. We had it easy compared to them.

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I think the reason that there are fewer STEM graduates than other fields is that earning the degree requires a lot more time-commitment to the assignments. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;):D

 

And yet, when my dh was in a competitive clinical psych program (at the doctoral level) (and at one time, clinical psych had about a 1% acceptance rate for the competitive programs) he went months without going to bed before o'dark:30. Few of his undergrad psych pals went on to get a doctoral degree. So, while the undergrad might have been "easier" =it was only for those who didn't go beyond that. He worked his tail off in undergrad because he knew that grad school was a goal.

 

He also spent a year at PU in their doctoral level Cognitive Psych program, surrounded by brilliant STEM folks. The weed-out at the undergrad was more difficult but I'm not sure you could say the same thing at the grad level.

Dh is becoming fluent in his 3rd language, beside English. He works HARD at it. In much the same way he worked hard at stats.

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I don't know of any other majors that felt as undergrads that they had to lock themselves into the labs or whatever in order to make it to graduation......

 

 

As a ChemE student, when we made it to our junior year, we were issued keys to get into our department's building and computer lab and reference room because we would need 24/7 access. We also spent many nights working most of the night in groups at each other's apartments, then would sleep an hour or two on the couch or floor wherever we were and head to our classes in yesterday's clothes.

 

Yes, there are weeding out classes in most disciplines, but there isn't the vicious weeding out, the personal insults hurled by the faculty while you play or paint, etc. that goes with music performance (no, music education and sacred music majors did not have it that badly...only performance) or art.

 

 

We had to give one technical presentation a week to our department faculty. We had to dress in suits and have overheads of our graphs printed (these were the days before powerpoint and laptop projectors) and do it just like it was a real presentation to upper management. And then they would do their best to tear up our case and make us lose our composure. If we wrote an excellent report but were unable to deliver a good presentation or answer questions or defend our conclusions, we would get a terrible grade. This turned out to be excellent preparation for life after college, when I did have to do the same thing "for real", but instead of professors and department heads it was the CEO and assorted VPs. So they had a reason to put us through this, and to not want to graduate anyone who couldn't handle it.

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I went to an engineering school. We talked about school work day and night. There were a few Humanities majors, management mostly. They were considered not challenging.

 

But as bad as all the engineering and science majors had it, the Architecture students had it much much worse. They lived in the Greene building during the weeks up to the portfolio reviews. I don't know when or if they ate ever. We never saw them.

 

So if the engineering and science majors put in 80 hour weeks on school work, the Architecture students were well over 120. We were astounded by how much effort it took to get that grade. At least we knew when we got the answer correct, they were at the mercy of profs and nebulous grading criteria.

 

If Architecture is a humanities major then they were not remotely easy. We had it easy compared to them.

 

How is architecture a humanities major ? It is an engineering discipline.

 

They probably ate by having pizzas delivered to the building from a 24 hour pizza place. That's how we did it.

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I will tell you that at a competitive school, the most demoralizing, most difficult, most heinous majors there are on the campus are pure art (not art history majors or art education, but art as "performance" if that makes sense) and music performance with piano and violin being the absolute killers.

 

Thank you for sharing your story, Faith. This is exactly why I did not major in music -- I'm not wired for that kind of competition. My skin is far too thin!! I played violin all the way through college, even had a scholarship from the music department, but I never had to prepare for a jury or for a junior or senior recital. I watched my older and very talented brother get humbled in a competitive music school. He dropped out as did many of his friends and as did many of the teens I knew. I didn't major in music yet I am a busy and happy musician now.

 

My dh has a BFA in drawing and painting. He and his friends lived in the art studio junior and senior year. He puts in long hours as a professional artist, too. Weekends are for engineers who have 9-5 jobs. Musicians and artists work 7 days a week.

 

STEM majors may face "weeding out" classes early on, but humanities and arts majors face that weeding out too, just at a different point in their career. I'd say they face being weeded out in the job market as there are so few tenure track positions for English and History PhDs, and only the need for so many instrumentalists in symphony orchestras.

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Something has been bothering me in the STEM discussions. We can all agree that math, physics, and chemistry are challenging subjects that require a certain mental discipline to master. Yet it seems that some dismiss the humanities as being of a lesser caliber. And so I ask:

 

If foreign languages are so easy to master, why are we not all trilingual?

 

How is the discipline of a STEM student different than that of a music major who must practice his instrument several hours daily and master the rigor of music theory?

 

If philosophy is simple to understand, then why do we not see posters on the General Board debating the nuance of Kant or Kierkegaard (as opposed to the latest "news" story made viral via Facebook)?

 

Computing integrals in a Calculus class may require some head scratching but so does writing a ten page paper on King Lear. The former may help us develop a good tool for science, but the latter gives us a view of the human condition. A good tool for life?

 

Perhaps the argument against the humanities has less to do with ease and more to do with grade inflation. Or perhaps American Pragmatism lies at the root of the discussion. Knowing how to find the center of mass of a solid is practical, whereas a discussion of meter in poetry is considered frivolous (?).

 

Sorry--feeling cranky this morning.

 

Jane the Curmudgeon

 

Nope, I totally get it. If everyone ran to STEM subjects, where would that leave us? Completely one sided, that's where.

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I was an engineering major but ended up taking quite a few upper level English and honors courses out of pure interest (college was not so expensive back then and I had received some AP credit for lower levels).

 

The STEM courses took roughly 5x the effort to achieve an A. I am not exaggerating. But I did thoroughly enjoy the numerous electives that I took - they were interesting and wonderful.

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Weekends are for engineers who have 9-5 jobs.

 

When I worked as an engineer I never had a 9-5 week, ever. I was on call 24/7 and spent many nights and weekends at the plant. We did not get any overtime pay, and could only earn comp time if we worked either 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday, or 4 hours per day of overtime for five consecutive days. Then we got one day of comp time. In fact the reason I left the field was because the overtime and extended travel requirements were so ridiculous, and I did not want to have those job requirements working against my desire for having children and having time to spend with them.

 

I used to fantasize about becoming a bank teller or a mail carrier so I would not have to work overtime, or have to work unplanned overnights because of operational problems, or go on business trips, and would always have at least one day a week off.

Edited by laundrycrisis
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weekends are for engineers who have 9-5 jobs. Musicians and artists work 7 days a week.

 

 

 

This is not our experience. Dh works for an IT company. He's been working 75 hr. work weeks for three years. We get giddy when he has a Saturday or Sunday that he doesn't have a conference call, or code to write, or a team that has an emergency. In the last three years, he has accumulated 1 year of extra time. But, he's salaried and the company does.not.care. He does not get pay raises or bonuses and he does not get extra time off...to complain is to be fired, no mercy...they just off shore one more position.

 

Most of the engineers, IT workers, and such that I know work terrible hours and lots of weekends. They have it just as bad as everyone else in the current crappy work environment in America.

 

Faith

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Sorry -- I was being a bit flippant there! And I didn't take the time to edit myself.

 

Actually, I have many engineering friends and know that their work is just as deadline driven as my husband's. And their work is just as project based, meaning there is as little long term job stability. Perhaps the long hours and pressure that is part of their college careers is a good preparation for the realities of their working lives.

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Again -- sorry for being so darn flippant!

 

Someone must get real weekends off, right? I see all the advertisements for wonderful events on the weekends so someone must go, but it isn't my family! I'm the one working church gigs, theater gigs, or weddings, while my dh is working at home, so I was blithely thinking everyone else is off enjoying themselves! Since we were talking about STEM, I just threw engineers under the wheel of my large truck of a post.

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Weekends are for engineers who have 9-5 jobs. Musicians and artists work 7 days a week.

 

 

 

I know you say you were being flippant, but I don't know any engineer who works those hours. Over the last 20+yrs, my dh has avg anywhere from 60-80 hrs/wk. He typically works 6am-6pm and is on call every night and every weekend. He gets calls even when we are on vacation.

 

There was an engineer that dh works with that was about to board a plan to Hawaii with his wife for their 25th anniversary vacation and the plant called them off b/c of a crisis that they needed him for. Too bad he was scheduled for vacation. Any idea that engineers only work hard in school is just plain nuts.

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:lol:

 

Gosh, I needed this laugh. Based on your writings, most of you have NEVER seen what a good humanities education looks like - not that it surprises me, since the American / LAC tradition is more of a high school level crash course compared to what I had. Your opinions seem to be based on "exams" in form of subjective papers where the more postmodern you get, the better your grade and on a patchwork of simplified reading lists which serve for discussions whose purpose is to relativize things without backing them up significantly. I regularly faint when I see what the humanities education has come down to in some places and what a horrible injustice is being done to it right now in Europe.

 

First of all, the classes you describe seem to have been a severely watered down version of the thing. And they were such because to make a NON watered down class you need to assume a HUGE level of previous knowledge and interconnections - the level which, objectively speaking, very few people nowadays have due to the systematic destruction of classical education. Let us take a simple example - Dante. To make a GOOD course on Dante, you cannot take students for whom this will be the first encounter with Dante and who lack background. For a proper Dante course, you need students who (i) know the entire Western history and Western literary and philosophical history UP to Dante; (ii) are especially well-versed in Roman stuff or at least intimately familiar with Ovid and Virgil; (iii) who know a thing or two about Medieval culture and literature - Curtius will do for a general introduction; (iv) who are preferably linguistically equipped to read secondary Latin tractates, of course Italian works and criticism which is often untranslated from German, English and French - perhaps they may not be able to do ALL of that, but SOME of that, sure.

Following me? This is where you START. For an UNDERGRADUATE course. This is a level of knowledge you ASSUME that the students have or will have by the end of the course and if somebody cannot cope with it - well good luck for them, it will probably take them years to get it done with that exam, IF they do. The whole historical layer will take up one lecture along with introductory remarks, and yet a perfectly legitimate exam question will be an elaboration of the Guelfi vs. Ghibellini war, Ovidian motives in Dante WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES (WHAT is taken from Ovid and why), Dante's linguistic opinions, Auerbach's view of realism in Divine Commedy, the influences of medieval bestiaries on animal descriptions WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES, the genre debate of Commedy WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES (why is it probably NOT epic, for example) in the context of medieval culture, Borges' take on cannibalism in canto with Ugolino, etc.

 

I know people who have had three years of Dante in (Italian) high school and who positively flunked that exam MORE THAN ONCE. Because the familiarity with the text is not the ONLY thing that matters. Because the professor could care less about your opinions if you lack the factual base and historicity of all those debates. Because half of the reading list was in foreign languages and if you could not cope with it and missed that part of that exam where it was brought up and summarized, well good luck, you BETTER find somebody who has notes in Italian. Because they did not know medieval Catholic theology well enough to explain some textual nuances. And so forth.

 

Essay style exams? Give me a break, those are the decadent invention of the newest epoch, at least in Europe, it was NEVER like that until the newest generation. If you had an essay, it was a prerequisite for an exam, not THE exam. The exam was typically two-part: a written component and then an elaborate oral exam, which could be anything from ten minutes to two hours (I AM NOT KIDDING. I could tell you stories of waiting in the line in front of the exam room. And never knowing to estimate how long you should wait, because a common sight was a student who enters, exits after five minutes saying "He failed me AGAIN."). On the written part you had ACTUAL QUESTIONS which could not be cheated. It often coinvolved complex linguistic analyses of the text first and then not YOUR opinions, but your essay-like summary of the historical debate with references to bibliography (of course, WITHOUT being able to use ANYTHING while you are taking the exam!), then IF you passed that, you had an oral exam in which you could be asked almost literally anything. Some classes had ONLY oral exams - you in front of the professor and assistants, cross examination of the worst kind.

 

A-F grades? Of course that nuances are lost in such a system. How about 0-30 scale? With an additional lode if you REALLY knew it all? 18 was the passing mark. There were classes in which for GENERATIONS pretty much nobody had received anything above 25-26. There were classes with insane failure rates, or if not those, where the average grade was lower than in my DH's (STEM) classes.

 

DH had it easier in so many ways. I mean, he had a book or at worst several books. The exam was what was in those books. No "tricks". Trick questions - sure. But no tricks, no things such as "Now, if you would be kind enough to elaborate on this footnote in [some additional book from the secondary bibliography list]... Why the comparison with German romatnicism?" [on an exam which has NOTHING to do with Romanticism, formally! But of course, knowing German romantics was a GIVEN by that year, even if you had no specific class on that!]

DH was regularly appalled, awed and head shaking at seeing what was going on in our classes. He just had to do his exercises and labs, be prepared for an inverted diode as a trick question and that was it - if he worked, he knew he would pass.

If he had literature in foreign languages, well it all used international terms anyway. Nobody ever frowned upon him for not having read some of the secondary bibliography because it was in foreign languages. He did not HAVE secondary bibliography in 90% of the cases! He knew that if he did his work, he would be fine. I knew that if I did my work, I merely increased my chances of being fine, but it was no guarantee, because...

 

"Having worked" in my case meant having an insane scholarship level that allows you for reading secondary bibliography in several languages, making all sorts of across-history connections with literature and philosophy, making up IN YOUR FREE TIME for all sorts of things which were "given" and "assumed", but you were not taught in high school and still needed those to be able to function in the context.

Not to speak of moments of crisis and the "What the heck did I need this mess and why did I just not study law or medicine like my parents wanted me to?!?! I would at least have a precisely defined body of knowledge I need to know!" And extended-weekend chillings in Austria because I. could. not. take it. any. longer. and needed. a break. BADLY. And then a full month of "to hell with it all", no attending classes, no reading, no nothing.

And the best of all? I was GOOD. I was one of those who did NOT work as hard because they had a good background knowledge and things were falling into their places quite naturally and easily. Who actually finished with everything in due time. There were many who gave up. I was one of those who were chilled, careless and relaxed 90% of the time, and yet I had some quite serious crises too.

 

Five page essays that I heard of so much these days? Guys, my *high school* graduation thesis (because - gasp! - we HAD those!), also in humanities, was in double digits!

Not all courses included writing, but your final theses for degrees - defended in front of 11-member commission - had BETTER been good and their length was in three digit numbers, not two digit numbers.

 

Humanities deal with things of a certain memetic complexity and they are not scientific in the strictest sense of the word as you cannot apply scientific method to it. In hard sciences there are outside tests for whether something works or not, which is not dependent on people (whether a plane will crash, for example). It is possible to calculate things with precision.

Yet, NO mathematician or scientist in the world has made a machine which can translate from a human language to another human language. You cannot calculate it. The complexity of combinations and idiomatic elements is enormous. No two artistic translations are the same. You cannot find a formula for translation. And THAT is the kind of complexity that humanities students work with EVERY DAY. THAT is why they have "interpretation problems" (which have been abused to banalize education in some places) - because with such memetic complexity you cannot so easily, or possibly cannot at all, reach universal truths.

 

Humanities are NOT what a few "star (pseudo-)intellectuals" from the public discourse are doing with nonsense about female fluidity and male rigidity and "sexualized" gravity (God when I read those... I did not know whether to laugh or cry.). Do not allow yourself to be fooled by those. Things are enormously more complex than that when done properly. Now, the fact that they are NOT done properly nowadays has an awful lot to do with the decadence of the school system, anti-intellectualism, the fact that the universities have become corporations lead by a market logic more than an imperative to educate, and so on and so on, but I will get really flippant if I start talking about that, so I am limiting myself to this. :D

Edited by Ester Maria
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Sorry -- I was being a bit flippant there! And I didn't take the time to edit myself.

 

 

 

I too was being flippant since my dear husband had just pulled that 9 to 5--i.e. 9 PM Saturday to 5 AM Sunday followed by returning to work after a few hours of sleep. Faith said it best:

 

 

Most of the engineers, IT workers, and such that I know work terrible hours and lots of weekends. They have it just as bad as everyone else in the current crappy work environment in America.

 

Faith

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Well Ester Maria, you have us all beat, hands down!!!!! We scream uncle!

 

There is no such thing as a humanities education like that in the US and there hasn't been in many a moon!

 

I do relate to one thing. I went to a private high school in which a graduate thesis was required. Several people ended up with an extra year of high school for failure to meet expectations. If memory serves, mine was around 25 pages...nothing on par with what you describe, I'm sure, but it was at least a step in the right direction. We had an oral board exam to take as well and despite higher expectations than any of the public schools, I was woefully undereducated by the standards I have now for my own children.

 

This is one reason our children are required to produce a graduation thesis as well as oral boards in may subjects. Though we do not have your background, virtually no way to get it here in the states either even if we had the time to pursue it, we are beating ourselves into the ground trying to shore up the deficits and raise the bar for our own kids. Sad to say they will never have the education that your children will have and even sadder, they are considered "geniuses" amongst their peers and by many, many adults.

 

Sigh....education has fallen so far off the mark in so many arenas that it is completely disheartening.

 

Still, I have to say, I think I would take your college oral boards over my music juries. Consider this - between the scales, arpeggios, memorized music, and sight reading, I had to play - let me estimate - not less than 800 notes per minute and in some cases upwards of 1200 depending on the piece and tempo, for one hr. - probably a minimum of 54,000 notes and every error in note, count, articulation, dynamic, etc. was 1 pt. The only caveat was in sight reading - 1/4 pt. per error. 15 pts. was the cut-off. We began with 100 points and 85 was the cut. - you could be KICKED OUT OF THE PROGRAM! Yes, that's right..demoted to music education or sacred music, but no performance for you. Below 75, you were demoted from ALL music majors and could only minor in music.

 

So, one had to perform within twenty-seven thousandths of a percent of accuracy. Well, on paper anyway. The only saving grace was that in order to level the playing field the pianists did not have to perform on the Steinway concert grand with the electronics that allowed the computer to record your performance with perfect accuracy, calculate your errors from a scanned copy of the music, and tabulate your score. Had we played on that instrument, they would have just closed the piano department. I knew of no 18 and 19 year olds that were capable of being mathematically flawless on concert level material with only one or two years of college instruction under their belts. This meant that we had a good chance that the less than perfect brains of our professors might not catch something. But, then again, with the kind of ability they possessed and copies of the music in front of them, an hour of playing level 8 and higher music, left them plenty of room to find excuses to strip you of your scholarships and standing within the department.

 

Thus, the vomitting before and after juries and recitals. (Recitals were every bit as brutal because music faculty members from other colleges were invited to come to our recitals so that the various egos could critique and argue over whose minions were better or worse. Ian Hobson was at my sophomore recital; I'd had a master class with him earlier in the year.

(http://www.ianhobson.net/) I even received a small compliment from him that has stuck with me all of these years, "You bring your soul to the music and have talent. However, you'll never amount to anything. Your hands are too small." :D Oh yes, the never amount to anything comment...that didn't mean much. Ian Hobson said I had talent! :lol: That's how mentally conditioned to unkindness I had become. Just in case anyone wants to know, I never made it to Carnegie and I never won a concerto competition. I ended up marrying a very sweet man and teaching. So, in terms of Ian Hobson's assessment, yes, musically speaking, I never amounted to anything!

 

Ester Maria, I do understand the point that you are making! Absolutely. But, at least in the 1980's, there was one major on some college campuses in America in which the standard of excellence and the methodology to produce it was at least on par with what you describe if not worse. I survived. I probably have some sort of post traumatic stress disorder from doing so! :D That said, I do believe I am too kind of a human being to wish such stress on any student in the name of "education". ;)

 

Faith

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But, Faith, my point was not "my dad is better than your dad". :lol:

 

The point was that you cannot compare a very good science education that the US is known for (and hat's off there - excellent working and lab conditions in many places as compared to Europe) with mediocre, at best, humanities education. Either you are going to compare the best with the best, or the mediocre with the mediocre. When it comes to humanities, American universities (generally speaking) are great at the doctoral level - not before.

 

Every field of study can be approached rigorously and in the ideal circumstances, every university study is like what we describe (and then we have pleasant memories with a PTSDish note to it, LOL). But it depends on the organization. I have issues with blanket statements about *fields* themselves based on having seen how they have been done in one class, one university, one academic tradition, especially if as a non-major as a part of one's general education requirements.

 

The problem is that humanities specifically have suffered some processes which are not very applicable to most other fields due to the nature of the field, so the ultimate result of the degradation of education is felt, perhaps, most acutely in humanities. This is what gives a false representation of the fields within it as "easy" ones, as it is significantly easier to banalize those and turn them into a joke than to do so with exact sciences, or music for that matter, or architecture.

 

I do admit my first response was totally flippant, as the various mental and actual ramifications of this topic push my buttons, so I am sorry if I sounded flippant, arrogant, etc. The point was not to disparage a different academic tradition, but simply to show that things CAN be done differently and USED to be in many places - before the corporation logic entered the game, what university was about got redefined, etc.

 

I was not very stressed for most part, though - I need to emphasize that point. It sounds worse than it actually was, stress-wise, as I was handling it very well. But if I objectively compare syllabi, expectations, questions asked now and then, here and there, I do see some starking differences. And then people tell me how my majors were easy - and I seriously considered drastically changing department to ESCAPE those easy humanities and to be in a department where I know what exactly I am expected to do and know! :lol: On the other hand, I hold no grudges against my former professors (on all levels of education) because I know in all fairness that the little I do know - if I can claim to know anything anyway - I know because I was taught by people who knew infinitely more and who understood things infinitely better than me, and the reason for so was a completely different educational logic, educational path and standards.

 

I still struggle with the question of what is enough and what is ultimately worth it for an education. But I am a pessimist, and a one that has become dangerously cynical for a myriad of reasons. So I am bitter and vitriolic. Education does not matter, ultimately. In fact the little idealism I have left is probably a huge disservice in teaching. I should teach them how to regurgitate, how to be "bombastic" and "original" while not having a clue of what they are doing, how to present themselves as though they knew things rather than having them attempt understand a thing or two. It would probably help them more in life.

 

I sing (terribly, cannot carry a tune for the life of me :)) and I still like music even though a piano teacher gave up on me while I was still in elementary. Everybody I know who was into music had a very physically and mentally challenging student career - and a career afterward. It is something I would not wish for my daughters, it seems so exhausting to me.

Edited by Ester Maria
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.

 

Still, I have to say, I think I would take your college oral boards over my music juries. Consider this - between the scales, arpeggios, memorized music, and sight reading, I had to play - let me estimate - not less than 800 notes per minute and in some cases upwards of 1200 depending on the piece and tempo, for one hr. - probably a minimum of 54,000 notes and every error in note, count, articulation, dynamic, etc. was 1 pt. The only caveat was in sight reading - 1/4 pt. per error. 15 pts. was the cut-off. We began with 100 points and 85 was the cut. - you could be KICKED OUT OF THE PROGRAM! Yes, that's right..demoted to music education or sacred music, but no performance for you. Below 75, you were demoted from ALL music majors and could only minor in music.

 

.

 

Thus, the vomitting before and after juries and recitals. (Recitals were every bit as brutal because music faculty members from other colleges were invited to come to our recitals so that the various egos could critique and argue over whose minions were better or worse. Ian Hobson was at my sophomore recital; I'd had a master class with him earlier in the year.

(Faith

 

Faith,

 

This is the true reason I switched my major. I was music education and we had the same requirements of soph barrier, juries your junior year, etc. I threw up. I wanted to teach music. I loved music. I still do. I didn't want to perform, and those juries just killed me.

 

That said, I have directed a children's choir at my church for 15 years, a performing youth sticks group, sing on the praise team and member of praise team and the music committee that plans all the big programs. So I get to do it anyway.

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But, Faith, my point was not "my dad is better than your dad". :lol:

 

;) Oh, I know that! I just couldn't resist. Sometimes, I do have to admit, it is a little cathartic to talk about what happened "back then"! Plus, I figure that if I let it out once in a while, it will help all the homeschooling parents keep their eyes WIDE OPEN if they have a child with an aptitude for music such that they might consider majoring in it at a serious music school. Though it may be a humanity, it is not one of those majors subject to just checking off one class at a time until graduation. Unwitting freshman get eaten by hungry faculty! :lol:

 

I still struggle with the question of what is enough and what is ultimately worth it for an education. I wish I knew. I worry constantly about whether I am doing enough for my children. I try so hard not to project stress on to them because it.is.not.helpful. But, I struggle with the same fundamental question. Then I wonder if I've hampered them because I've turned them into thinkers instead of hoop jumpers. If the ultimate necessity is "getting a job" or being self-supporting, how will this alternative educational philosophy serve them in an employment climate in which employers seek those that do not question the boss, who function inside narrow parameters, who must have hyper-specialized knowledge...should I have sacrificed time for oral questioning and discussion on that third Shakespearian play or should we had tackled more math, computer science, biology???? What did we miss because we sacrificed time to great literature, more history, Latin, etc.? There is no right answer and I HATE that! Is it too much? Is it ever enough?

 

I sing (terribly, cannot carry a tune for the life of me :)) and I still like music even though a piano teacher gave up on me while I was still in elementary. Everybody I know who was into music had a very physically and mentally challenging student career - and a career afterward. It is something I would not wish for my daughters, it seems so exhausting to me.

 

I'm glad you still enjoy music and no one beat it out of you. I enjoy it now. I did not for a very long time. I also did not wish it on my children. DD, despite being discouraged from it, became a very accomplished pianist and vocalist anyway! I guess I couldn't suppress her DNA. :D But, the one thing I did do was make sure she knew what it would be like to go into it so she would avoid it like the plague!

 

Ultimately, though I think we probably wrestle with the same issue. You bring an amazing perspective to the subject because you have witnessed an entirely different methodology of education than most of us on the board have ever experienced. I really appreciate that contribution.

 

That said...we have been trying to compare apples and oranges in this discussion. Thank you for pointing it out! :001_smile:

 

Faith

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This whole thread reads like "my major is tougher than ..." and the comparisons are apples, oranges, and bananas. The only thing I've taken from this is that the whole fruit basket sounds unappetizing. :glare:

 

I think it's important for our students to do what they love to do, and do their best. All the areas of study are important - life is a cornucopia.

 

I've had different insights at various points of this thread, but what I've ultimately come up with is further proof that I shouldn't post this late at night. :lol:

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Ester Maria;

Your experiences sound like what a lot of my undergrad friends who were history or classics majors were doing. They worked v. hard on papers and oral presentation/exams. I could not ask my kids to do this amount of work if their lives depended on it. I do think they are lazy, they do the minimum necessary in their eyes. This is horrid for me, who had dreams of great work, great inspiration in the homeschool setting. Dd, who graduated from ps, just did what she needed to do to get a certain GPA. Other dd does not care about even that. She works enough to keep me off her back. Her favorite retort "Just so you know, they only read/do X at ps/private school/other homeschool..." This drives me crazy. We are in my school, but I will muddle through. I wonder how she will cope in college. Oldest dd was surprised by the quality of reading and writing demanded and the lack of scantron tests!!!! Youngest dd may be in for a v. rude awakening indeed.

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I ran an honors dorm in college filled with students majoring in everything from education to all the "STEMs" to an assortment of "humanities". Everyone was working their @ss off.

 

Additionally, every major has classes designed to 'thin the herd'. Just because they may not be advanced calculus doesn't mean they aren't there. Sometimes departments deliberately put the biggest @sshole in the history of a subject in a low level course to drive students out (survival of the mentally fittest). Sometimes they write a syllabus that is impossible to complete without Herculean effort (like having the answers to the homework only be available in ONE book in the special collections library, where 150 students have to compete for 'time' to see it - and that library is only open 6 hours a day) - survival of the most competitive & crafty. One doesn't have to have a course that is predicated on yes/no answers to make it difficult. Oh - another good tactic: all of the above and no / minimal office hours for clarification (patience is its own reward).

 

--------------------------------------------------------------

 

I'm just tired of the entire "whose ______ is bigger" meme.

 

Seriously.

 

Everyone works hard. Everyone has worked horrid hours (whether one thinks the other person does or not: face it - no one has babysat someone else's entire career).

 

All things remaining equal:

 

If every single person ran off and got a STEM degree, guess what? There would be a whole bunch of out of work people with STEM degrees. Supply and demand.

 

If everyone ran off and got a Humanities degree, guess what? There would be a whole bunch of out of work people with Humanities degrees. Supply and demand.

 

 

a

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:lol:

 

Gosh, I needed this laugh. Based on your writings, most of you have NEVER seen what a good humanities education looks like - not that it surprises me, since the American / LAC tradition is more of a high school level crash course compared to what I had. Your opinions seem to be based on "exams" in form of subjective papers where the more postmodern you get, the better your grade and on a patchwork of simplified reading lists which serve for discussions whose purpose is to relativize things without backing them up significantly. I regularly faint when I see what the humanities education has come down to in some places and what a horrible injustice is being done to it right now in Europe.

 

First of all, the classes you describe seem to have been a severely watered down version of the thing. And they were such because to make a NON watered down class you need to assume a HUGE level of previous knowledge and interconnections - the level which, objectively speaking, very few people nowadays have due to the systematic destruction of classical education. Let us take a simple example - Dante. To make a GOOD course on Dante, you cannot take students for whom this will be the first encounter with Dante and who lack background. For a proper Dante course, you need students who (i) know the entire Western history and Western literary and philosophical history UP to Dante; (ii) are especially well-versed in Roman stuff or at least intimately familiar with Ovid and Virgil; (iii) who know a thing or two about Medieval culture and literature - Curtius will do for a general introduction; (iv) who are preferably linguistically equipped to read secondary Latin tractates, of course Italian works and criticism which is often untranslated from German, English and French - perhaps they may not be able to do ALL of that, but SOME of that, sure.

Following me? This is where you START. For an UNDERGRADUATE course. This is a level of knowledge you ASSUME that the students have or will have by the end of the course and if somebody cannot cope with it - well good luck for them, it will probably take them years to get it done with that exam, IF they do. The whole historical layer will take up one lecture along with introductory remarks, and yet a perfectly legitimate exam question will be an elaboration of the Guelfi vs. Ghibellini war, Ovidian motives in Dante WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES (WHAT is taken from Ovid and why), Dante's linguistic opinions, Auerbach's view of realism in Divine Commedy, the influences of medieval bestiaries on animal descriptions WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES, the genre debate of Commedy WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES (why is it probably NOT epic, for example) in the context of medieval culture, Borges' take on cannibalism in canto with Ugolino, etc.

 

I know people who have had three years of Dante in (Italian) high school and who positively flunked that exam MORE THAN ONCE. Because the familiarity with the text is not the ONLY thing that matters. Because the professor could care less about your opinions if you lack the factual base and historicity of all those debates. Because half of the reading list was in foreign languages and if you could not cope with it and missed that part of that exam where it was brought up and summarized, well good luck, you BETTER find somebody who has notes in Italian. Because they did not know medieval Catholic theology well enough to explain some textual nuances. And so forth.

 

Essay style exams? Give me a break, those are the decadent invention of the newest epoch, at least in Europe, it was NEVER like that until the newest generation. If you had an essay, it was a prerequisite for an exam, not THE exam. The exam was typically two-part: a written component and then an elaborate oral exam, which could be anything from ten minutes to two hours (I AM NOT KIDDING. I could tell you stories of waiting in the line in front of the exam room. And never knowing to estimate how long you should wait, because a common sight was a student who enters, exits after five minutes saying "He failed me AGAIN."). On the written part you had ACTUAL QUESTIONS which could not be cheated. It often coinvolved complex linguistic analyses of the text first and then not YOUR opinions, but your essay-like summary of the historical debate with references to bibliography (of course, WITHOUT being able to use ANYTHING while you are taking the exam!), then IF you passed that, you had an oral exam in which you could be asked almost literally anything. Some classes had ONLY oral exams - you in front of the professor and assistants, cross examination of the worst kind.

 

A-F grades? Of course that nuances are lost in such a system. How about 0-30 scale? With an additional lode if you REALLY knew it all? 18 was the passing mark. There were classes in which for GENERATIONS pretty much nobody had received anything above 25-26. There were classes with insane failure rates, or if not those, where the average grade was lower than in my DH's (STEM) classes.

 

DH had it easier in so many ways. I mean, he had a book or at worst several books. The exam was what was in those books. No "tricks". Trick questions - sure. But no tricks, no things such as "Now, if you would be kind enough to elaborate on this footnote in [some additional book from the secondary bibliography list]... Why the comparison with German romatnicism?" [on an exam which has NOTHING to do with Romanticism, formally! But of course, knowing German romantics was a GIVEN by that year, even if you had no specific class on that!]

DH was regularly appalled, awed and head shaking at seeing what was going on in our classes. He just had to do his exercises and labs, be prepared for an inverted diode as a trick question and that was it - if he worked, he knew he would pass.

If he had literature in foreign languages, well it all used international terms anyway. Nobody ever frowned upon him for not having read some of the secondary bibliography because it was in foreign languages. He did not HAVE secondary bibliography in 90% of the cases! He knew that if he did his work, he would be fine. I knew that if I did my work, I merely increased my chances of being fine, but it was no guarantee, because...

 

"Having worked" in my case meant having an insane scholarship level that allows you for reading secondary bibliography in several languages, making all sorts of across-history connections with literature and philosophy, making up IN YOUR FREE TIME for all sorts of things which were "given" and "assumed", but you were not taught in high school and still needed those to be able to function in the context.

Not to speak of moments of crisis and the "What the heck did I need this mess and why did I just not study law or medicine like my parents wanted me to?!?! I would at least have a precisely defined body of knowledge I need to know!" And extended-weekend chillings in Austria because I. could. not. take it. any. longer. and needed. a break. BADLY. And then a full month of "to hell with it all", no attending classes, no reading, no nothing.

And the best of all? I was GOOD. I was one of those who did NOT work as hard because they had a good background knowledge and things were falling into their places quite naturally and easily. Who actually finished with everything in due time. There were many who gave up. I was one of those who were chilled, careless and relaxed 90% of the time, and yet I had some quite serious crises too.

 

Five page essays that I heard of so much these days? Guys, my *high school* graduation thesis (because - gasp! - we HAD those!), also in humanities, was in double digits!

Not all courses included writing, but your final theses for degrees - defended in front of 11-member commission - had BETTER been good and their length was in three digit numbers, not two digit numbers.

 

Humanities deal with things of a certain memetic complexity and they are not scientific in the strictest sense of the word as you cannot apply scientific method to it. In hard sciences there are outside tests for whether something works or not, which is not dependent on people (whether a plane will crash, for example). It is possible to calculate things with precision.

Yet, NO mathematician or scientist in the world has made a machine which can translate from a human language to another human language. You cannot calculate it. The complexity of combinations and idiomatic elements is enormous. No two artistic translations are the same. You cannot find a formula for translation. And THAT is the kind of complexity that humanities students work with EVERY DAY. THAT is why they have "interpretation problems" (which have been abused to banalize education in some places) - because with such memetic complexity you cannot so easily, or possibly cannot at all, reach universal truths.

 

Humanities are NOT what a few "star (pseudo-)intellectuals" from the public discourse are doing with nonsense about female fluidity and male rigidity and "sexualized" gravity (God when I read those... I did not know whether to laugh or cry.). Do not allow yourself to be fooled by those. Things are enormously more complex than that when done properly. Now, the fact that they are NOT done properly nowadays has an awful lot to do with the decadence of the school system, anti-intellectualism, the fact that the universities have become corporations lead by a market logic more than an imperative to educate, and so on and so on, but I will get really flippant if I start talking about that, so I am limiting myself to this. :D

 

You go, girl! :D

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nonsense about female fluidity and male rigidity and "sexualized" gravity

 

Seriously, this is the kind of thing I remember from my days as an English major. The d-word (deconstructionism) was very, very hot back then, and as far as I could tell, it meant saying anything that came into your head about a text.

 

I feel cheated of the type of literature education EM describes.

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This article, titled "Why Science Majors Change Their Minds: It's Just So Darn Hard," seems relevant to the discussion.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all%3Fsrc%3Dtp&smid=fb-share

 

Sorry -- I've obviously trying to keep track of too many things -- and failing!

Edited by Gwen in VA
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This article, titled "Why Science Majors Change Their Minds: It's Just So Darn Hard," seems relevant to the discussion.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all%3Fsrc%3Dtp&smid=fb-share

 

Gwen that's the article that started this discussion. :)

 

Here's the thread discussing the NY Times article:

http://www.welltrainedmind.com/forums/showthread.php?t=322172

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Everyone works hard. Everyone has worked horrid hours (whether one thinks the other person does or not: face it - no one has babysat someone else's entire career).

In principle I agree with the rest of your post, but this is only partially true, in my opinion.

 

Things are NOT always equal, but the inequality is more across the places than across the disciplines themselves, if that makes sense. There have always been diploma mills without as high academic standards or a need to really push yourself to excel, especially in the day and age where the corporate logic has taken over the university - and a single university can have a "diploma mill"ish program in one field and a very difficult program to another field, just like everything in between. Some differences are objectively comparable via syllabi and bibliography lists / requirements, as well as subjectively comparable via mobility experiences, having taught in several places and knowing others who did, etc. There are some very real differences one can observe this way.

 

And sometimes, having worked hard is just not worth it as you are still not good and were not given professional breadth. This is what gets me the most. Many kids get cheated in the process, do put in a lot of effort, but walk out of it without tangible, concrete results in terms of skills and scholarship. :( For example, I know of French majors who would have been MUCH better off, financially and quality wise, to have simply terminated their high school education in France and have got a Bac L (i.e. a high school qualification, not a university degree). Seriously, and it would have been a lot cheaper for them. I also know of classics majors who would probably do rather poorly in the upper years of a classical lycee in those same subjects if you put them to a comprehensive exam right after their overpriced diploma. And much of whose elective and general undergraduate work was in courses such as "Women in Ancient Greece". Because, y'know, those are all so brilliant students who have read and reread multiple times and thoroughly critically and philologically studied Homer, Hesiod, Sophocles, etc., so they afford themselves an "academic candy", i.e. a luxury of a random course on gender musings. :rolleyes:

NOT.

And we walk in the same circles all over again: we are attempting to build a solid structure without the fundamentals by subjugating a systematic academic study to the principle of elective study and the approach of whatever is the current academic fashion. This, along with several other factors, is one of the main reasons for the decadence of humanities education in many places - not in all places, but in very many. It often is not applicable to exact sciences, thus the different proportions.

 

 

Amy --- I can understand why you feel this way. :grouphug:

I could write a lot about this topic. In principle I see no problem with studying deconstruction as one of many intellectual fads that have been around, but I have a HUGE issue with lacking fundamentals. It is like the classics major thing I just described - deconstruction is something that you have the luxury of studying after you had acquired the basics in more Earthly things (such a having a solid diachronic textual base of your tradition). It is not something you do to substitute that base. Although my personal opinion of most of that fad, as well as the one I referenced in my previous post, is such that they are better not posted. :D

Edited by Ester Maria
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This table lists GRE score by intended graduate major. I know that folks can jump major from undergrad to grad school, and I know that education cannot be summed up by one three hour test.

 

Nonetheless it is an interesting chart.

 

http://www.ncsu.edu/chass/philo/GRE%20Scores%20by%20Intended%20Graduate%20Major.htm

 

Folks going into social work score relatively quite poorly on the verbal, analytical, and writing.

 

Most worrisome, folks going into education on average don't score particularly well in any area.

 

Folks going into philosophy seem to be relatively well-rounded.

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Something has been bothering me in the STEM discussions. We can all agree that math, physics, and chemistry are challenging subjects that require a certain mental discipline to master. Yet it seems that some dismiss the humanities as being of a lesser caliber. And so I ask:

 

If foreign languages are so easy to master, why are we not all trilingual?

 

How is the discipline of a STEM student different than that of a music major who must practice his instrument several hours daily and master the rigor of music theory?

 

If philosophy is simple to understand, then why do we not see posters on the General Board debating the nuance of Kant or Kierkegaard (as opposed to the latest "news" story made viral via Facebook)?

 

Computing integrals in a Calculus class may require some head scratching but so does writing a ten page paper on King Lear. The former may help us develop a good tool for science, but the latter gives us a view of the human condition. A good tool for life?

 

Perhaps the argument against the humanities has less to do with ease and more to do with grade inflation. Or perhaps American Pragmatism lies at the root of the discussion. Knowing how to find the center of mass of a solid is practical, whereas a discussion of meter in poetry is considered frivolous (?).

 

Sorry--feeling cranky this morning.

 

Jane the Curmudgeon

 

 

Jane, you always raise such interesting questions!

 

I've been absent again, but needed to post another question for my unit study. I'm not sure what STEM stands for, so it's obvious that I've been out of the loop with things here.

 

Yes, I've wondered the same thing myself. Now, perhaps this is just me and my own perfectionistic tendencies, but I have found it very difficult to write quality essays for my literature classes. Yes, I have to read the material over at least 2-3 times, and then again as I'm constructing my essay. Sometimes I find that formulating my thesis is almost like giving birth (forgive the awkward analogy). Very few of my papers have been short, and I frequently have to have my husband or my oldest daughter read my papers or talk through them with me so that I can clearly develop the thesis.

 

No, I don't think that a quality education in the humanities is necessarily easy. Not being a math or science-minded individual, I can't really compare the two. However, I would contend that a humanities major must be as logical as the math or science major. Forget that nonsense that the humanities are all about "feelings." Reading and writing about literature means being able to discern the author's argument or thesis or points and being able to explicate those points clearly and with persuasion.

 

My oldest daughter is currently taking three literature classes--one of them Shakespeare--and the teacher for the Shakespeare class is also her lit. teacher for another class. She's finding this a real challenge.

 

For me, I'd have to say that my Latin courses were the most difficult by far. As soon as my present coursework is done, I plan on diving further into the humanities by getting a master's in English lit (hopefully with a focus on Shakespeare) and taking more Latin classes.

Edited by Michelle in MO
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