“What will you do after studying history?”
“Who gives a job to a simple graduate?”
“Oh, she has done B.A.? I know a really good family for her marriage.”
“Why don’t you do IAS?”
“What? You want to wear a jhola and have sex with those communist-types?”
“Good girls don’t study stupid things like Gender Studies? They will turn you into one of those crazy Mahila Morcha people.”
Do these phrases sound familiar to you?
If they do, then you know exactly what I am talking about. If not, then you either studied science in grades 11 and 12 and dutifully went to an engineering or a medical college, or you had cool parents.
The above dialogues are the most common things that many Indian parents and relatives say to their children when they express a desire to study the liberal arts.
All countries in the world have education systems that are best suited to their social structure. What makes India unique, is how much we fetishize an education in science. One would think that it is because Indian people value research and scientific discovery.
The only reason why parents bully their 16-year-olds into opting for the “science stream” in the last two years of high school, is because engineering, medicine, architecture et al. are considered “safe” career options.
Some brave parents are also okay with allowing their children to study commerce because that is supposedly useful if your kid wants to just make a lot of money or work for a major MNC.
As far as most people are concerned, only two kinds of people study the liberal arts, or humanities as we call them — those who are too unintelligent to get into the science classes, and those who are intelligent but idiots because they don’t know they are committing professional suicide by studying arts subjects.
Just yesterday, results of the nationwide grade 12 exams, also known as the “Board Exams” was declared. And while an overwhelmingly large number of students have scored above 95% in even subjective courses like Political Science and English Literature, there are hundreds of thousands of students who are worried sick about entrance exam results for admissions to reputed engineering, medical, and law colleges.
I took this infamous exam six years ago. And while my peers gleefully boasted of scores that were ridiculously high (and thus proof of their IQ and scientific prowess), I tucked myself in a corner, ashamed of my modest 83% in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.
Thanks to a father who chose to listen to me, I was able to join the University of Delhi to study Political Science. Many of my friends who did not make it through the competition were not given that option. Their parents spent millions of rupees and purchased seats for them at private colleges.
The logic? That at the end of the day, they would still be engineers or doctors, even if not from blue-blooded institutions.
The first few months after joining political science, I was not sure of myself. I constantly thought that I was somehow less than all these other people and that they would make it in life while I won’t.
However, soon I realized that I was glad to be where I was. And thanks to the years I have spent in the liberal arts, I want to dispel a few myths that most people seem to hold on to even when presented with facts and logic.
Myth #1: Science teaches you critical thinking. Liberal Arts is a bunch of made-up bullsh*t
This has to be my favorite myth. Because of the sheer blanket assertion of its nature which belies any sort of critical analysis. Science is the discipline that conducts an inquiry into facts. Natural science deals with facts of the natural world and how they may be applied in order to improve the material quality of life through the use of technology. Social Science, a major part of the liberal arts, deals with an equally rigorous scientific inquiry into the socio-economic and political realities of the world to find solutions to real problems like rising crime, rising poverty, racial discrimination, inequitable distribution of resources, and lack of education among certain sections of society, in addition to a number of other issues.
And if anyone wants to tell you that such research DOES NOT require critical thinking, I want you to ask them WHERE they got their useless science degree that did not teach them anything about logic.
Another added advantage of studying liberal arts is that if you are willing, it will teach you to question your own ethics and morals at every step, and you will be forced to consider how every action of yours has an impact in the larger scheme of things.
If nothing else, you will learn to enjoy the taste of fair-trade coffee as opposed to coffee harvested by bonded laborers in Ivory Coast.
Myth #2: There are no jobs after a degree in the liberal arts
Yep, and journalists, writers, graphic designers, dancers, animators, advertising professionals, PR agents, actors, models, social workers, teachers, chartered accountants, psychologists, musicians, photographers, screenwriters, politicians, military analysts, investment bankers, foreign language translators, painters, sculptors, gym instructors, sports coaches, cricketers, tennis players, gymnasts, radio jockeys, film-makers, broadcasters, hairdressers, lawyers, preachers, ballerinas, chefs, bartenders, insurance agents, digital producers, bakers, fashion designers, tailors, make-up artists, policemen, diplomats, bureaucrats, policy makers, human resource managers, marketers, business developers, sports commentators, comedians, YouTubers, bloggers, social media managers, jewelry designers, wedding planners, and unemployed people like me — ALL went to Medical or Engineering school.
Myth #3: Taking Science will keep all your options open
Not happening… unless you are one of those geniuses who are good at everything. Most people have an aptitude for certain things and not others.
If your kid is good at creative writing, chances are that he has better chances of succeeding as an author or a journalist than as a physicist. Therefore, if your score in science subjects is bad, then those subjects stop being an option. And considering that admission to even liberal arts courses only takes into account the board exam score, a low score can mean no seat even in subjects that you have an aptitude for– simply because you scored badly in a stream that wasn’t meant for you in the first place.
You might be amazing at history, but if your score in PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Math) was a mess, then you won’t be allowed admission to the history course either– because the cut-off percentage will remain 94% irrespective of what you studied at high school.
Foreign universities allow their candidates to write essays and submit recommendations to explain these things. But trust me on this, in a country like ours, no one has the time to listen to your story. So be wise, and choose the correct subjects in the beginning.
Myth #4: Arts and Sciences are incompatible in the real world
Nothing could be further away from the truth. Let me explain this with an analogy. A number of companies are investing in Virtual Reality (VR) storytelling as a medium for marketing.
The interesting thing about it is that while knowledge of software and code is desirable in order to use this tool for digital marketing, VR stories cannot be produced without people who know the basics of good, traditional multimedia storytelling. In other words, the creative aspect of this job can only be done by someone who understands photography, camera work, videography, 3D modeling, and graphic design. None of these are typical “science” subjects. And creativity cannot be taught in any school. Period.
This is just one example. Most jobs in the market these days demand a combination of skills, which does not come without some background in the arts.
Also, most material that goes out into the public domain is open to fine scrutiny for all kinds of shortcomings. Racist overtones, cultural misappropriation, hurting religious sentiments– the only way to avoid these blunders in things like advertising, marketing, and PR, is to hire people who understand these issues in detail, something that only comes with a rigorous training in the liberal arts.
Myth #5: Engineering and Medical are the only real options after science
This one has little to do with liberal arts, but it hurts the study of science so much, that I can’t not talk about it. If a kid told his/her parents, that he/she wanted to study an arts subject, the reaction would be the kind that I started this article with. However, if he/she said that they wanted to study Physics/Chemistry/Zoology/Botany, the reaction would be even worse.
“You are so smart, why do you want to waste your life when you can become an engineer and earn millions of rupees?”
That is the tragedy of our country. We study science for the sake of a seat in a coveted “professional” college. We go to said college in order to get a plum job in an MNC or to increase our value in the marriage market.
I have a lot of respect for science. I am a huge science nerd myself but even six years ago, I could not immerse myself in the toxic cycle of coaching classes and rote-learning theorems and derivations when I didn’t understand them.
And I was right… because the study of science should be based solely on understanding and reasoning. However, in India, that is of no value. It is amazing how millions of students join science courses every year in our country and yet, the money invested into original scientific research is almost nil.
This obsession with science is ironically doing a gross disservice to the scientific temper of our students.
And in the process, the liberal arts have simply become collateral damage!