This article by Anya Skarova, appeared first in The Conversation and was reprinted in Truthout. We can add it to the discussion of the uses of education in the United States. It is titled:
Science and engineering subjects are often presented as better career choices for students than the arts or humanities. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, recently said that STEM subjects – sciences, technology, engineering and maths – unlock doors to all sorts of careers and that pupils who study maths to A Level earn 10% more over their lifetime.
Previous research has shown that there are actually lots of factors including ability, personality, motivation as well as family and educational background which impact on what undergraduate degree people take and their ongoing career success. And our new research has shown that the importance of the different types of motivation varies depending on the subject a student chooses.
When we are excited about something, whether it is a hobby or an interesting work-related task, we tend to perform better and apply a variety of creative approaches. If we are focused on a particular goal, we might be more organised and use a more structured approach in delivering the expected result.
This focus on an external goal, such as financial success, is known as “extrinsic” motivation, while enjoyment is known as “intrinsic” motivation. Both are very important for career success but in different ways. Extrinsic motivation leads to better performance, while intrinsic motivation to a deeper, more thorough way of learning.
Our new research shows that students studying for different degrees differ in their level of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation….
We found differences in the reasons that students of certain subjects had for choosing their degrees … For example, current and prospective engineering students rated career options as a very important reason for their choice of degree, while interest in the subject was a low one. Yet arts and humanities students showed the opposite: prospective students reported enjoyment factor as important in their degree choice, while career was not as important on the agenda.
Both types of motivation are important to success on the career path, both in a person’s degree and their future job. So it is necessary to have a goal to be successful in your career. It is also important to provide students with an opportunity to follow their intrinsic motivation to enjoy their studies because they will perform better at what they enjoy.
Careers are often judged by financial success – and not without a reason. And graduates from arts and humanities degrees seem to make less money than their STEM peers. …
But perhaps the reason for that is not that those careers are a bad choice. If arts and humanities degrees attract people who are not career-driven, could that explain why they do not do as well financially in their career in the future? In order to make more money, you need to strive for that – it doesn’t just come by itself.
If it is the case that arts and humanities students do not do as well financially because of low career aspirations, should we discourage them from choosing arts and humanities? Probably not – these degrees are where they might do the best – because they enjoy it. …
And if people are not that keen on what they are doing and just do it for the pay, they may be less likely to do a good job – or they might drop out if better-paid work opportunities arise. So the key is to let people choose what they enjoy – and then help them to make it into a career.
I went to collage with a Fine Arts major. and we got married before finishing our educations. When she was hospitalized one year I audited most of her classes so she wouldn’t get too far behind. One class was in Photography and it seemed strange that all we did was absorb the inspiring words of the hippy-dippy professor and if we were so inclined, we could reserve lab time to produce our own Man Ray rip-offs. One of the other students dared to ask in class why our instruction didn’t include things like how to take and develop photos. The professor replied (unforgettably):
If you want to learn how to be a photographer, you should enroll at Long Beach State; here at the university we teach you how to manage the workers who do shoot the pictures.
If I hadn’t been so close to graduation, my anarchistic dark-side might have told me to storm out of the class and move to Northern Montana. But I didn’t.
That was the emphasis back in the sixties. I imagine it was ten times worse after Ronald Reagan took over in California and later in Washington D. C. Just as I hope the nation eventually digs out from beneath the disasters that started in the Reagan administration, so too do I hope that motivations other than greed become common, not just with art majors, but with all people. Money is the corrupting influence that may well bring destruction to this country and possibly even to the entire planet.
Let’s just hope the cockroaches never learn to covet the filthy lucre.