Obama’s Attack on the Humanities
The collapse of the humanities is most certainly not only about Barack Obama’s direct attack on them while he was humping the STEM fetish through his eight-year term. But I am glad this Post piece actually reminds us just how bad Obama was on this issue, as well as as awful he was on all education issues. There was no area where Obama more embraced neoliberalism than education with his utterly awful Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. We’ve flushed much of this down the memory hole because Trump was so bad and these things seem like a zillion years ago now. But Obama’s STEM fetish absolutely continues to have an impact today.
Nearly 2 in 5 American college graduates have major regrets.
That is, they regret their major.
The regretters include a healthy population of liberal arts majors, who may be responding to pervasive social cues. When he delivered his 2011 State of the Union address in the shadow of the Great Recession, former president Barack Obama plugged math and science education and called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Since then, the number of new graduates in the arts and humanities has plunged
According to Schmidt, the Great Recession sparked the beginning of a downward spiral in humanities such as history, art, philosophy, English and foreign languages.
“In the period of the Great Recession, you had Barack Obama out there saying we need more STEM majors and fewer English majors,” Schmidt said. “That was a story you were hearing from a lot of people in influential positions … and I think that made a difference.”
In the decade since our national pivot to STEM, the number of people graduating with computer science degrees has doubled. Every STEM field notched significant gains. Nursing, exercise science, medicine, environment, engineering, and math and statistics are all up by at least 50 percent. Among the humanities, only two increased: cultural, ethnic and gender studies, and linguistics.
There’s no question that it was the Great Recession that killed the humanities. The question though is why that particular economic downturn and not, say, post-1973. There’s a few answers here I think. One is the role of college debt and the visceral fear of not being able to pay it off, which definitely affected parents. But equally important is that this happened at the same time as the rise of the neoliberal education industry that was already attacking higher education that didn’t “create jobs.” That become doctrine among business leaders and other rich people who colleges became more dependent upon. And Obama LOVED these people. Those are his people. Obama is basically a techbro in the end. He completely believed it. He pushed it. His Department of Education pushed it. And part of the upshot of that is an attack on the humanities at the exact moment when Americans desperately need education in critical thinking about media, understanding of other cultures, and empathy.