It seems as though the STEM fields have taken over modern society, fueling an obsession with efficiency that dominates our lives. We are driven by a need to contribute to society, but the only contribution we can think of is the kind that provides us with money and provides society with a feeling of moving forward. Progression means technology, so that's what we push in schools and universities. STEM fields get more funding while art programs fall apart. We value English, sure, but only to the extent that it teaches students proper grammatical form. Why study literature when you can study something actually worth your time?
That's the whole problem. The idea of "worth" has been rewritten in our minds to mean "profitable," and that which is profitable in modern society is science. I know, I know, graduate mathematics students would disagree, but ultimately, we judge the STEM fields as applicable to our surrounding universe. Applied science is the way to go in college, because that is what secures a job. Security, comfort, efficiency. These are our values, and art and literature just don't fit.
John Steinbeck said in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, "The last clear definite function of man... minds aching to create beyond the single need—this is man." Creativity drives humanity. Why else would we call art and literature the humanities if not because they are what make us human? The humanities have defined civilization for all of history. Technology will move forwards always, but the humanities are what make each society unique. Yes, the Romans designed the aqueducts, but we love them more for their majestic architecture, for their classical sculptures, for the great works of Virgil and the adaptation of Greek philosophical thought. The arts made us human in ancient Egypt, in Greece, in Rome, in India, in China, in Byzantium, in Renaissance Italy, and even today. So why don't we give them the credit they deserve?
Students have been brainwashed into thinking that the arts make them useless to society, but in fact, the arts are the only thing keeping society human. They are what separate us from every other species, every other machine. Without art and literature, we are nothing but a computer-like brain built into a breathing, talking, walking mechanism. Without imagination, creativity, and the freedom of expression, we are useless ourselves.
Historically, no one could be "educated" without a deep and thorough knowledge of the humanities. Art history, philosophy, literature and poetry—these were always necessary to create a civilization. We live in a world in which these values are dying, torn by a lack of relation to a post-industrial society. Some people seem okay with that. Some people just don't care enough to do anything about it.
Not everyone has to be an English major, and that isn't what I'm asking. However, maybe take a second the next time you tell a humanities student that their specialty is useless. Take a second, and think about it. Why is it useless? Useless to who? Useless why?