November 3, 2015

ZUMBA | The Hierarchy of Studies

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By SARAH ZUMBA

“Oh, cool! Do you wanna be a teacher?” is one of the questions that I am personally tired of hearing. I am  asked this by other students, people I’m first meeting and even at the dentist’s office. Once I make it known that I’m an English major, this is more often than not the response I receive from whomever I’m speaking with, and from discussions with other English majors, I know I’m not alone. This is one example that demonstrates a grander issue regarding the way certain studies are typically viewed.

If you study something in the STEM field or economics, you may not have had your major questioned like those of us in the humanities. That’s because there’s a difference in the general level of respect afforded to these fields of studies. If you’re in STEM, you’re often considered to be studying something valuable and practical. What you’re studying is “real,” and will ultimately contribute to the bettering of society; so of course, when someone states that their majoring in biology, the result is awe and praise. I continuously have first-hand experience with this, as my oldest brother is a surgeon. He’s met with “wows” while I’m met with “interestings.”

What I’m studying is considered impractical, unless I want to be a teacher or a lawyer, which is not something I’m considering whatsoever. Several people have even asked me if I think my major is fake or valuable. Both words have completely different connotations, but they are connected. By asking if the work I do within my major is fake, I’m being asked if I’m actually working towards something that’s real and not just working within a realm of abstract creativity. Just because I can’t compute a definite correct answer to an essay prompt doesn’t mean that my creation isn’t real. Writing is an art that takes practice. It is not as simple as stringing random words together within the parameters of sentence structure. It takes time and effort to be able to write well. I’m continuously working on this skill.

On the other hand, questioning the value of what a person is studying can be taken in different ways. The two most prevalent contributions to the overall “value” of a field of study are the amount of prestige it has within society and the potential for financial gain. A common assumption is that the humanities aren’t going to make a difference in the world. We’re not considered innovators, we’re not researching cures to diseases, so what are we really providing the world that is necessary?

The humanities and arts are necessary because they teach us about people. In novels, you’re experiencing something from another person’s perspective. In history, you’re learning from past mistakes and social issues. In anthropology, you learn about societies that may be different from your own. The list goes on, but the outcome is that we gain knowledge about the world outside our own experience.

People may encourage you to study what you love, but it’s only especially true if what you love leads to wealth. If your study is known to lead to jobs that result in a large amount of money, then you are being practical. That choice is then viewed in a positive light, as opposed to someone studying something without the promise of wealth. I am aware that whatever I end up doing probably will not allow me to buy a penthouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but that doesn’t mean what I do won’t be as important as someone in the STEM field. Actually, the fact that studies are labeled as valuable and money is considered an aspect of that only demonstrates how we function in a capitalist society. We become what our study or job is.

We’re all more than what we study, which is something I, at times, struggle to remember when meeting another computer science major. I’m sure I could try to be a doctor, and if I somehow didn’t fail out, I would end up being a terrible one. That’s not what I’m meant to be, nor is it what I’m passionate about. Someone has to be a writer as much as someone has to be a dentist. Maybe we’re not advancing technology, but we’re still helping shape humanity in our own way that is just as significant. Humanities help teach what we’re all working to improve. I’m not saying one is better than the other, as I have a great respect for everyone in STEM, business, etc. We shouldn’t have to compete with one another over who is more important; we all deserve the same amount of respect when it comes to our majors.

Sarah Zumba is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at sez29@cornell.edu. Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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