This graduation season, we’d like to offer a little advice to Texans preparing for college. As you pick a major, remember that the humanities matter, perhaps more now than ever.

Yes, we know we’re at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), when technology is replacing millions of jobs and everything from big data to biotechnology is changing the way we think about work and education. We also know the response to these changes is often to prune humanities courses in favor of technical training programs.

But we believe this is a mistake. In a time of great disruption, the humanities, and the perspective and analytical skills they provide, will become more important.

Technical and vocational schools are crucial, as is job training for 4IR. But that should not come at the expense of a liberal-arts education. Classes in literature, philosophy, history, religion, political science, languages and the arts are essential. The very notion of what it is to be a free citizen in a republic was first formed then expanded by the works of Plato, Shakespeare, Smith, Jefferson, de Tocqueville, Whitman, Dickenson, Du Bois and Baldwin.

As philosophy professor Scott Samuelson wrote in a 2014 article “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers” for The Atlantic, “We should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees.” When considered in this light, the liberal arts are essential to any functioning liberal democracy and the American experiment as a whole.

The great value of a liberal-arts education is the overall benefit of to our society, culture and politics.

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture awards the Hiett Prize in the Humanities each year to an individual “whose work shows extraordinary promise to have a significant impact on contemporary culture.” Last year the prize went to James Matthew Wilson, a poet, critic and scholar of philosophical-theology and literature.

In his acceptance speech, Wilson spoke of literature as “moral instruction” about events. “To know the truth,” he continued, “we have to know what things are good for. To know the truth about ourselves, we have to know what we’re good for. And that entails knowing our story.”

This — telling stories and knowing the truth — is what the humanities offers. And it is, perhaps, the key ingredient to the continued success of our American experiment. Now is not the time to retreat on this front. Surely, the demands of 4IR and our ever-accelerating society will be enriched by what we rightly call the “humanities.”

Editorial by The Dallas Morning News

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