January 23, 2007

The Value of an Arts Degree?

The value of an arts degree is something that might be questioned- the practical value of a history degree (despite the fact I have two and may be about to get a third) can be questioned possibly in the way that a physics degree teaching the practical skill of mathematics might not. Stumbling and Mumbling for example included recently a post on his blog about the differential earnings ratios of degrees- whereas a social science degree or a science degree puts your salary up a lot, an arts degree isn't as valuable.

But are the bosses actually understanding the value of an arts degree and an arts education further down the school career- this review in the Common Review of E.D. Hirsh's recent book on reading shows that your ability to comprehend a text depends on wider irrelevant knowledge rather than a knowledge of a text. Hirsh did an interesting test about reading comprehension. He set two groups of students a text about baseball to read and tested their comprehension. The two groups were one group of baseball fan students and another group of students who had a deep knowledge of general culture and the humanities. When tested for comprehension it was the second group who comprehended the text about baseball better. Hirsh wants us to begin educating children to know things as well as to read things. What this research does suggest is that the knowledge that students get through arts degrees isn't as useless as it might seem- it allows them to understand texts much better than they would have otherwise even if those texts aren't related to what they studied at university and school.

This may be special pleading from an arts student- but on the other hand I do think that having an arts degree- in a subject like history- gives one externalities, like the ability to analyse texts that aren't always as obvious as the skills that other degrees confer.


El Dave. said...

I have a BSc in politics. It was a lot of history, philosophy and theory; not exclusively, but a lot. A quarter of the degree was a quarter. Go figure.