Ihlara McIndoe: Save the Humanities

In 2010, Steve Jobs famously said that for technology to be truly successful and influential, it must be paired with artistry. "It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough," he said. "It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” 

The recent announcement of the restructuring within the humanities and arts departments at the University of Otago has sparked conversation around the opportunities that come along with arts degrees, and the benefits that these programs offer to Dunedin as a city. Particularly wonderful to see is the support offered from departments such as law, science and medicine, acknowledging the importance of a wide variety of arts courses being offered at Otago. As a music student, the potential of a restructuring of the course seems like a scary possibility for a close knit department. But more so, as a young person today, looking forward to the future, the slipping of the arts and humanities from importance in tertiary education is a worrying concept for society on a wider level.

I was lucky enough to travel with the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute National Youth Delegation to the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this year, where I spent four days listening to inspirational speakers - Kofi Annan, Willie Parker, Helen Clark, and Margaret Chan - just to name a few. While I was in awe of the doctors and business people creating positive change in the world through their areas of expertise, I was equally as inspired hearing people who have studied similar things to what I am currently, speaking about the positive contributions they were making to their local community. There were people with sociology degrees educating girls through community soccer groups, people with english degrees creating online forums for discussion about safe sex, people with performing arts degrees campaigning for free access to menstrual hygiene products. For me - along with the other young women in the delegation, all of whom are trying to find how we can use our skills and passions to give back to our communities - the value of our education became very obvious. Some of us had been discussing with one another our worries that our arts degrees weren’t “enough”, and wouldn’t be taken seriously. We had wondered if we’d be able to make more of a contribution to society if we had studied medicine or sciences instead. Our worry eased as we heard about such innovative projects being conducted by arts graduates, and did so even further after hearing Cecile Richards speak.

Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and member of the Democratic Party, graduated with a bachelor of history, the same degree as some members of the delegation I was travelling with were completing. As well as her work in Planned Parenthood USA, Richards was also key in the establishment of the Texas Freedom Network, which aims to protect religious freedom, defend civil liberties, and strengthen public schools across the state. She is also on the board of the Ford Foundation, a global private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare, and is one of the founders of America Votes, an organisation that aims to coordinate and promote progressive issues. The list of her commitments continues. Richards admits that she almost didn’t show up to her Planned Parenthood interview when she first applied for the job, because she was worried that she “didn’t have the right degree and didn’t know the right people”. But clearly she had the education to get the job, and do the job extremely well.

For me, listening to and learning from Cecile Richards, along with many other speakers with a variety of tertiary backgrounds filled me with confidence in my choice to study in an area of the arts. Humanities disciplines make a unique contribution to various areas, and develop a wide range of skills such as critical and analytical thinking, cultural awareness, and communication. Economist Gerald Gordon said “Creativity will be the currency of the 21st century” and I couldn’t agree more. Creativity is what keeps the world we live in today going. It’s what leads to constructive critique. It’s what leads to solutions. It’s what leads to bettering the living standards of people world wide. It is extremely important to have creative young minds leading society, and integral to enabling this is the access to a wide variety of education areas. Creativity comes from a variety of sources and influences. It comes from medicine, it comes from science, it comes from law, and performing arts, and humanities and sports. We do not live in a tunnel visioned world, where technological evolution is the one stop answer to solving global issues. It is the interconnectedness of a wide variety of educational areas that is essential for the flourishing of society. 

The humanities today are more important than ever.


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

Posted on August 30, 2016 and filed under Women Deliver 2016.