Moneytrees wrote:I don't disagree that they can be hard. Some humanities classes/majors are genuinely tough, I completely agree.
My point is that they are easier relative to hard science majors. If one of your students struggled in a history or political science class, wouldn't you agree that his struggle would have been even more pronounced in an engineering class? Obviously some people have a propensity for a certain topic, and that's fine, but generally I would advice incoming undergraduate students interested in law to stay away from hard science majors.
Having also taught at the college level (and I have graduate degrees in both the hard sciences and the humanities), I'd say that the answer to this is generally no: different skill sets are required to succeed in humanities and hard science classes. Many folks are, of course, good at both, and many folks struggle in both. But I saw similar proportions of brilliant hard science majors who couldn't write a paper if their life depended on it (and got below-median grades as a consequence) as I did brilliant humanities students who couldn't complete a lab if their life depended on it (and got below-median grades). The biggest difference is that a sub-par student in a humanities class is likely to end up with a B- or C+ whereas a sub-par student in the sciences may well get an F.
Another factor in all of this is that hard science majors are much more likely to end up in humanities courses than vice versa. I think this combined with confirmation bias contributes to the perception that humanities courses are easier (that, and the fact that it IS easier to get a B in a humanities course than it is a hard science course due to grade clustering). There are many more hard science students (in absolute numbers) getting A-s in humanities courses than vice versa--but mostly if not entirely because of who take which classes.
I also think students, in particular, have a somewhat misled attitude about succeeding in the humanities. Just about everyone thinks they can write a paper. Not everyone thinks they can do a lab or problem set. But the truth is that writing an excellent paper is just as hard, if not harder, than acing a lab or a problem set. (And doing a passable job on a lab or problem set is much easier than many humanities majors believe.) Also, anyone who is literate can attempt
to write a paper--whereas most college-level math/science work requires a fair amount of advanced foundational knowledge. This does mean that it is easier to do the bare minimum of writing a paper than it is to do a problem set (which is why humanities grades tend to be much more closely clustered). (This also means that undergrads looking at each others' work will generally be much more intimidated by the science/math assignments--which may look like latin to someone without a background in science/math--than the English assignments--which will generally be comprehensible to every student who reads at even a high school level. This doesn't mean that the science assignments are harder, though, or even that they actually require more foundational knowledge--just that they appear to.)
Finally, I just want to briefly weigh in that I think some of this "science is hard / humanities is easy" chorus that often gets thrown around is subtly a product (to at least some small extent) of deeply ingrained biases related to gender. Men are socialized to pursue science and math and women are socialized to pursue the humanities. The majority of science/math professors and students in higher ed remain male while the majority of humanities professors and students remain female. How convenient, then, is it that our male-dominated culture so often repeats the myth that humanities are easier than sciences?
Edited for typos.