The conventional wisdom–or call it the current panic–warns that ensuring a prosperous American future requires that higher education dispense with the ambiguities of Shakespeare and Ibsen, and get on with the value-based business of spreadsheets and code. Jobs, jobs, jobs goes the cry–or what’s an education for? The panic is exacerbated by weak employment among recent college grads and all those unfilled coder positions that dominate Silicon Valley job boards. Not to mention the deluge of dire international statistics that really shakes up worried Americans–variations on the plangent theme of national decline: don’t look now, but Finland’s teens have surpassed Californians in trigonometry! One result is that the so-called STEM movement, focusing education on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math has found powerful proponents, all interested in bringing Americans up to speed and guaranteeing jobs for our beset youth. (And beating back those Finns!)
Turns out the panic is not so widespread as you’d think. A new survey indicates that despite astronomical costs of a college degree, plenty of families are still okay with students studying English literature, even taking a course in modern dance. 89% favored a broad curriculum that teaches students “the ability to think critically by studying a rich curriculum that includes history, art and literature, government, economics and philosophy.” Good thing too, since any particular job one trains for might not exist in the future. No doubt secretly proud to be defending the arts, the sublimely named William V. Muse presented the surprising results at an academic conference in California over the weekend. (Muse is Muse is a director of the National Issues Forums Institute, one of the co-creators of the survey.) Still, it’s not all Cezanne and Gibbon–people DO want jobs and two-thirds of those surveyed believe the STEM approach is key to both individual and national success.