Arts and humantities vs STEM. Why is it a competition?

There has been a lot of controversy over the past couple of days caused by Nicky Morgan’s comments at the Your Life campaign. There has been a backlash from the arts and humanities communities as her comments downgraded these subject areas and instead proclaimed that the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects were the way to keep young people’s options open. Yes, there is a place for these subjects but there are also places for the arts and humanities that are equally important and are just as valuable at STEM subjects.

I cannot understand for one thing how you can value certain subjects based on the earning potential of the jobs they can lead to. There are many people who studied arts and humanities who make a good living, a living that they are happy with, in a field that they love. For many people the sciences and maths are just not for them, just as the arts and humanities are not for others. How can we school people to value some subjects over others based on earning potential rather than the strengths of the student? The arts can have such a great social impact on young people, their development of self-worth, confidence and concentration. Is this not more important than earning potential?

Another element of the argument for promoting STEM subjects was the imbalance of how many boys take these subjects compared to girls. Having gone to an all girls school between the ages of 7 – 18 I have always been aware of the glass ceiling, and it has always been drilled into me that I should pursue any subject I liked. There was no such thing as a boy subject or a girl subject. My headteacher had a motto of ‘be the best you can be’ and was a great advocate of encouraging girls to pursue their interests. I remember being sent on a science day between three schools to encourage us to take sciences to A Level and I enjoyed sciences and loved maths, but the arts were always my bag. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age we still have to address the fact that girls don’t feel comfortable to take sciences and girls should be encouraged into the areas, but not at the expense of others.

This isn’t the same however as degrading the arts and humanities. My first music teacher told me I was ‘too academic to do music as a career’, another told me that I shouldn’t do music as I ‘didn’t practice enough’ even though I was stronger at the research and historical side, and when I decided to drop the maths side of my joint degree after first year and instead do a full music degree I had friends argue that it was a  bad decision, I’d drastically decrease my job prospects and that I wouldn’t earn as much. How on earth has this opinion become so ingrained?

I have not regretted my decision for one moment.

I definitely value the fact that I have a good numeracy level, and I enjoyed sciences to GCSE and took maths and further maths to A Level and into university, but that does not change the fact that music was my strength, I have learnt a huge range of skills through it and I am now pursuing a career in the arts, something I love. I will always be grateful that I went to a school that encouraged me to reach my potential in whatever field I wanted, regardless of earning potential or gender bias. Pupils should be encouraged to explore a range of interests but that does not mean that some interests are more valuable than others and that taking the arts and humanities closes doors. By not partaking in these areas you can close just as many doors as not studying STEM subjects.

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