10 Reasons You Should Take This Humanities Class


           Pope John Paul II blesses the crowd gathered in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square      



1. Humanities courses help us understand our neighbors: 


Most of us come from parts of America where the demographics of the population are changing. Orange County, the county in which UCF is located, no longer has a single majority ethnic group, a major change from its earlier days as a primarily WASP citrus growing tourist haven. We don't have to listen too long to hear different languages being spoken around us and to see new cultural events and religious observations that appear strange to us. It's easy to be taken aback by newly arrived peoples and their cultures and to find them strange if not completely alien. But these are the people among whom many of us will work, play and worship. They are our future customers, clients, neighbors, our children's classmates. Humanities courses allow us to know something about peoples and cultures that are different from our own. And it's a lot easier to deal with things we understand. Besides, we can all stand to learn something from other people. Imagine a world without St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo and Chinese New Year - all the products of immigrants to the United States! Finally, there are good reasons for cultivating an understanding of other peoples and cultures. Those who come from diverse populations tend to be more well-rounded human beings, are generally more highly developed morally and confident in dealing with the world. They find it easier to move about in the world beyond the United States, an increasingly important skill in a global economy.



2. Humanities courses give us a sense of where we've come from.


If there is a common response to materials presented in these courses, it's something to the effect of "I've always wondered where that came from."  Humanities courses give students all the benefits of history courses. But rather than focusing on the battles, dates and names, humanities courses give students a sense of how things fit together. We trace the development of architecture from the post and lentil construction of Stonehenge to the increasingly elaborate columns of classical Greece to the arches of Rome and the Gothic middle ages and finally to the reinforced concrete and steel skyscrapers of the modern age. We study the origins of the world's major religions, how they came to be as we encounter them today and where they might be going in the future. We even examine the way universities have existed over time comparing the academies of the Greek philosophers with the medieval universitas in which students and instructors contracted to learn together, comparing them in turn with today's tendencies toward "drive thru U" and consumerist approaches to education. Knowing where we've come from gives us a good sense of who we are, to whom we owe our current way of life and where we might be going.



3. Humanities courses discusses ideas we've often wondered about but were afraid to discuss.


One of the advantages of humanities courses is that it allows a very intentional discussion of the things one is never supposed to talk about in polite company - beginning with politics and religion! Humanities is more than learning facts and figures - the "what?" of learning. It's learning the "So what? What difference does it make?" It's the chance to raise questions about mysteries we've wondered about, sometimes for a long time. It's a chance to hear how others respond to the same questions we answer but with very different ways of answering them.  Often we learn as much from each other as from our texts or teachers.



4. Humanities courses help us get our own beliefs into order.


Most of us come to college with beliefs systems we have largely inherited. Statistically speaking, we are most likely to hold the same political views and practice the same religion as our parents or other significant others in our lives. For some students, college provides a major shock when those beliefs are called into question or even shown to be based on questionable premises. Such encounters bring us face to face with ourselves and requires us to ask the question, "So, what do I believe and why?" This can sometimes prove a bit painful. But the end product of self-reflection is an awareness of one's biases, one's beliefs and the limits of those beliefs. In other words, you may well come out of a humanities class with your own beliefs only now with a sense of why you believe them. That ought to come in handy in a diverse society where asserting that "Everybody knows that" or "It's common sense" may well not be true.



5. Humanities courses give us tools with which to understand and appreciate the world's art, literature and music.


Most students walk into art galleries and sum up pieces of art with the assessment, "That isn't art, anyone can do that!" Of course, that's not true. But it's an easy way to avoid considering who the artist was, what they were up to and what ideas they might be expressing. If we think of the expressive humanities - art, architecture, literature, music, dance, film - as the expression of a particular language, humanities courses serve as crash courses in speaking those languages. Many students find that they are able to appreciate being in an art gallery when they actually know something about what they're seeing and its significance. Besides, if we're being honest with ourselves, we know there's more to life than video games and Nick at Night. There's a lot to know about our world and the human beings who created and continue to create it. Humanities courses are good starting places for that journey.



6. Humanities courses develop skills we will need in almost any work we will do.


The analytical and critical thinking skills taught in a humanities course are readily applicable in law, nursing, engineering, international relations and hospitality management, to name a few. The abilities to reflect upon one's understandings, to be open to the other, to express one's ideas verbally and in writing in an informative and interesting manner are all major plusses in rewarding careers in virtually any field one could name. Learning to work together is a key skill for any career one might enter. There's not much call for the rugged, individualist hermit these days.



7. Humanities backgrounds are in demand in a wide range of professions today.


In the 2005 edition of the Princeton Review of Graduate Schools, the article on medical schools admission processes reported that med schools are looking for well-rounded students, not those sharply but narrowly honed in the sciences. What makes a student well-rounded? According to the Princeton Review, Humanities majors and minors for one thing! Why? Because the medical profession wants doctors who are capable of relating to other human beings. Many professions are requiring workers to take cultural diversity courses to insure their ability to work in diverse cultures. Lawyers seeking to avoid malpractice suits often attend seminars designed to expose them to the cultural values of others and how to respond to them in a positive manner. Humanities majors and minors have a leg up on the professional world. But even the student of the introductory classes can come away with an advantage.



8. Humanities courses approach us as unique, individual human beings, not numbers on a printout or warm bodies in an auditorium.


One of the advantages of humanities courses is that their relatively small class size permits discussion in class, group work with other students and the opportunity for class and instructor to get to know each other. Humanities instructors often write letters of recommendation and serve as references for students who often have few instructors who actually know them. It is not unusual to find students from humanities classes showing up in the offices of their instructors long after the semester is over to discuss something they've been thinking about that involves the Humanities. Humanities subject matter is human beings and their expressions of their humanity. As such humanities courses tend to be a bit more personal, less detached than other courses might be.



9. Humanities courses are good places to meet other people.


Another advantage of small classes where students are required to work together in groups and participate in class discussions is that students get to know each other. That's a major change from the auditorium where you sit with 300 of your most intimate friends. The subject matter of the humanities lends itself to discussions which allow the humanity of others to be known. To borrow a rather hackneyed phrase, "You can meet the nicest people in humanities classes." 



10. Humanities courses are FUN!!!


Let's see: new ideas, new cultures, discussions of otherwise forbidden subjects, coming to understand yourself and the world around you, getting to know new people and possibly nailing down a reference or letter of recommendation for future plans. Sounds an awful lot like fun.