The humanities: Going or staying?

04:04 AM January 21, 2020

At 87, I’m more than a decade older than the boomers at the opposite end of the millennials who own this generation. I’ve been laughed out of a room, so to speak, because I still have photos developed by Kodak, I have a Jurassic cell phone whose main features are to send messages and receive them, I don’t Facebook, Viber, chat, Google. A computer illiterate, I’m a clueless outsider in a digital conversation.

The truth is, I miss the gentler and less congested ’50s and ’60s and rue their passing. I do not belong to this world, nor do I miss or need its technological wonders. In fact, I resist the avalanche of information spilling out of its fantastic gadgets with fantastic capabilities. I’m out of the loop. So be it.


But I am intimidated not only by the fantastic portals of information. What bothers and overwhelms me more is the “new” knowledge and technologies they carry. I was a bit shaken when the growing imperative for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) was fielded as absolutely necessary to be competitive. I agree that science and mathematics are, but “technology” is something else.

I was shaken up when the “hard skills” of the 4th Industrial Revolution were trotted out: “artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D Printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other emerging technologies” (Inquirer, “Trailblazer,” 1/6/20). And all these on top of the pile of the digital revolution of the 3rd Industrial Revolution already upon us! And here comes “the artificial human” who can “converse and sympathize,” with “human emotion” and its “own unique personality” (Agence France-Presse, 1/9/20). It’s “get technological or perish.”


What is this technological invasion of both gadgetry and new areas of learning doing to the human being? What chance do the venerable “humanities” have to survive? Before this twin onslaught, I feel the humanities being driven to obsolescence and to oblivion.

Then came the Programme for International Student Assessment result. We were lowest out of 79 countries in reading and comprehension and second lowest in science and mathematics. Down in basic education, had the system failed in the 3 Rs (reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic)? Students barely understood what they were reading and could barely solve math problems.

Suddenly, the new buzzword was THINK. And to be more specific were the 4 Cs, the “soft skills”: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Take a good look at those four. Thinking is the highest faculty of a human being (philosophy, theology). Creativity is the arts (visual arts, music, design, dance, theater). Communication is literature, language, history, sociology. Collaboration is human connectedness, the rest of the social sciences, and not to forget, the emotions.

Doesn’t that hew close to the “true and finished man of character,” those who first seek to become men before becoming specialists? But who takes “liberal arts” today? Passé? Perhaps.

Imagine how happy I was when out of the millennials, a frontliner of this 3rd and 4th revolutions, Hyacinth Tagupa, wrote “…come back to reading” (Inquirer, 1/3/20). “To read is to take the time to understand the material, to recognize our opinions about it, and to seek more content….” “Reading comprehension quizzes… came after the short stories,” the novels, the plays.

Bear my pride. I did that for decades of teaching literature. After the who-what-where of “The Pretenders,” “Dr. Zhivago,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” etc., came the whys, the character studies, associations, links, cause-effects, implications, historical background, levels of meaning of symbol-metaphor. My students would never have confused Maupassant with Tolstoy! We had time to think. We had to think.

As for history, how many hours are allotted to it in K-to-12? In a decades-long era of Marcos-Estrada-Arroyo-Duterte, undisguised allies, so faint and weak have our sense of history, nationhood, national pride become. Michael Tan and Von Katindoy (Inquirer, 9/21/18) make a case for history to help us recover and “remember.”


So it goes for the rest of the humanities. Quo vadis? Going? Or staying?

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Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor and book editor; columnist since 1984 and contributor to the Inquirer since 1992.

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TAGS: Asuncion David Maramba, Commentary, humanities, STEM, Technology
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