Much has been said lately about the importance of education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. No doubt, some jobs require this training. But proponents of STEM education may forget the importance of the arts and humanities in producing competent employees. A recent study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences shows that the United States ranks 10th worldwide in the reading proficiency of high school students. Fewer than 30 percent of all 12th-grade students are proficient in writing, history and civics. Only 13 percent of college students learn languages critically needed for international security and global competitiveness.
Along with technical skills, today's students must have the ability to communicate, appreciate our diverse global culture and be able to reason through complex issues. Promoting technical skills is laudable but it shouldn't be at the expense of the arts and humanities. Too often, schools make budget cuts in these areas because they're deemed unimportant to the education of future employees. This is a mistake. The study of the humanities provides the kind of reasoning needed in all fields. Between 2000 and 2009, for instance, humanities majors scored 9 percent higher on the Graduate Management Admission Test than did business majors.
October is National Arts and Humanities Month. Let's celebrate the power of analytical thinking, informed debate, civic engagement and the rich heritage of art and literature. Arts and humanities help to create a well-rounded, educated workforce.
Ann Thompson, Oklahoma City
Thompson is executive director of the Oklahoma Humanities Council.