Why studying humanities is more important than ever to counter one-sided debates trend

In the age of science, technology and the obsession with faster living, studying humanities at university continue to decline. However, I believe it’s not the end for this “dying” discipline because critical thinking skills is needed more than ever to counter the rising trend of one-sided arguments, as Covid-19 has demonstrated.

Trinity College Dublin-Unsplash

It was heartbreaking when I heard our Education Minister announced tuition fees for some humanities subjects will rise by an astounding 113 per cent, while law and commerce will increase by nearly 30 per cent. Since we live in a technological age, it makes sense to inspire more students to enter STEM industries. However, Times Higher Education revealed studying humanities, social sciences and arts subjects have dropped in countries like Australia.

Humanities cover political science, history, languages, social science, education, media etc. I have two humanities degrees and I’ve come across some negative stereotypes about this area of study and its students. We’re seen as lazy, impractical, idealistic and notorious procrastinators who would all eventually join the unemployment queue after graduation. A friend of mine, who is prone to having Freudian slips, said it’s such an “easy subject anyone can do it”. But to condemn humanities as having minimal value is grossly misguided.

When I was at school, I didn’t really enjoy English classes. The books I was forced to read were as exciting as watching paint dry and I never understood why teachers insisted we should go through books with a fine-tooth comb and make exhaustive analysis of each character and theme. It had never occurred to me that our tireless teachers were training us to apply critical thinking skills because my oblivious mind focused on getting out of high school.

After graduation, I undertook a Bachelor of Arts/Science double degree with the keen ambition to work in the environmental science or media sector. However, my dream was cut short when I had to undertake physics, which was part of the core subjects of the science degree. I thought I could, with my best efforts, scrape a pass. Then, I knew it was an impossible feat after sitting through three classes and couldn’t make sense of what the tutor was teaching. He might as well have taught the lesson in Swedish.

I dropped the science degree and concentrated on arts. I majored in Media/Communications and International Relations, and then I obtained a Masters of Multimedia Journalism. University, unlike high school, has a much more flexible schedule so I enjoyed the liberties of studying and exploring subjects at my own time.

I loved going to the library to study and borrow books to do my own research. Gradually, I gained more knowledge on topics such as global justice, human rights, film and politics, media and audience relationship, Asia-Pacific politics, environmental justice and media coverage on international conflicts and events.

Humanities teach you how to communicate and convey complex ideas. It also encourages you to do critical thinking and to dissect narratives and topics in an objective, factual and open-minded manner. Studying an arts degree broadened my perspectives, and the more I studied, the more I realised the world isn’t a one-dimensional place.

Looking back, I have realised why English and literature teachers stress the importance of analysing text and themes. World history, politics and society are intertwined and that there are different sides to each story. For example, when I was studying my multimedia journalism degree, I didn’t understand why some news reports are so skewed until I learnt about the concept of embedded journalism, which was prominently used in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

Studying an arts degree has opened up many new opportunities and worldly experiences for me. I worked in community media, radio, digital communications and as a journalist for one of the UK’s most respected newspapers, Brighton Argus. Not to mention during my two-year stint I travelled across Europe and learnt more about its history and culture.

Education isn’t just about preparing students for their careers, but it’s learning more about the world around you. As society and world events move more rapidly, and misinformation on social media having the capability to spread faster than we can say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, critical thinking is more important than ever.

When Covid-19 became global, hawkish politicians and sensationalist media were quick to politicise and racialise the virus. Debates around the origins of the virus have divided people offline and online, and some of these “debates” resulted in very ugly name-calling and labelling. For example, there is a spike in racism against Asian-Australians who have reported they received threats, intimidation and being spat on. Some Chinese-Australians reported they were responsible for “spreading” the virus.

There is a disturbing trend in people falling for groundless and baseless claims. Some people believe the virus doesn’t exist at all while others think 5G is responsible for spreading Covid-19. One in eight Australians believe Bill Gates is the mastermind behind the pandemic, and 40 per cent of Australians believe the virus definitely originated from China and that it was created in a Wuhan lab. In fact, scientists have yet to identify the true origins of the virus. Spanish virologists have recently discovered coronavirus strands in a wastewater sample that was collected in March 2019.

Since Premier Daniel Andrews announced wearing facemask is compulsory for people living in metropolitan Melbourne, Mitchell Shire, and now the rest of Victoria, anti-maskers defy scientific advice and encourage others to follow their lead. As fear clouds our judgement, we become dogmatic and uncompromising when trying to overcome a complex situation. Studying humanities encourage us to be open-minded and not to take things at face value. Critical thinking teaches us to seek facts and to reflect on underlying causes of complex subjects such as geopolitics, global conflict separating fact from fiction when hearing news about Covid-19.

All things considered, we should be engaging in impartial and civil discussions to help each other improve our knowledge, understanding and to combat ignoranc

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Hsin-Yi Lo is a freelance writer. She was a journalist with Newsquest UK and has worked in the community media sector. She holds a degree in international relations, media/communications and a masters in multimedia journalism. Hsin-Yi writes about media, social issues, current affairs, international politics and multiculturalism

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