A common Asian parental expectation is expressed in the card game Asian Cards Against Humanities. (Photo by Grace Li)
Cleveland Charter High School

Opinion: Asian engagement in the humanities is lacking

Growing up as a Chinese American, it was common for others to assume I would become a doctor or engineer. However, when I told others I wanted to pursue a career in the humanities and become a writer, I was met with shocked faces. An Asian individual pursuing humanities is almost unheard of in society because Asians are commonly stereotyped as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students and individuals who will pursue a career in STEM.

According to 2012 and 2013 data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 30% of Asian students pursued a Bachelor’s degree in STEM subjects. Roughly 13% of Latino students, 10% of Black students and 15% of White students also pursued STEM degrees, making Asians the largest racial group that embraces STEM and pursues it in higher education.

With this heavy emphasis on STEM, Asians have steered away from the humanities field. Embracing the humanities is sometimes seen as a setup for failure by parental figures because careers in the humanities do not always guarantee financial stability or prestige. Being raised with such a mindset can cause cause Asian children to focus their attention on subjects like math and science, rather than English or history.

Although there is a great educational benefit to embracing STEM, failing to equally embrace the humanities may limit how one thinks and expresses themselves. When one only studies math or science, they may lack skills like how to think critically.

The humanities offer new perspectives through literature, philosophy, or art and provides one with the ability to interpret things in their own manner, whereas in a STEM field, interpretation in one’s thinking is limited. Likewise, the humanities teaches individuals how to express themselves through writing, religion, or language. In the humanities, one is given the opportunity to reflect on themselves, others, their relationship with others, and the world.

Despite the accomplishments and innovations made in the STEM field, the STEM field does not always teach individuals how to think. Rather, it teaches people what to think. Asians who pursue careers and education in the STEM field are taught great amounts of information, yet cannot always reflect on that information and approach it with new perspectives.

However, the humanities offers people opportunities to learn how to think about certain information, rather than memorize it and regurgitate it.

As Asians grow up with the stereotype that they must pursue STEM and embrace it, Asian engagement in the humanities decreases. While the STEM field holds massive importance in society, it is time for Asians to begin embracing the humanities. Asians not only need to learn what to think, but rather how to think.