My friend Casey Blair just made this post, which I liked because it made me think. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.
There has been a fair amount of discussion in Some Circles about which is more important, education in science, or education in the humanities. The general attitude is, you only have so many hours of education in college, you can only take so many classes, you have to choose how to divide them. Casey points out that what is trendy today is to concentrate on math and science, because that will make you employable, and she elegantly picks apart the logic behind that position. The crux of her argument is this: “Education is not primarily about teaching students employable skills. That’s called training, and that also matters, but it’s not the same as education. Education is about teaching people how to think.”
In my opinion, the biggest problem in education today is that one needs massive student loans just to get enough of an education to get a job that will never allow one to pay off the student loans. But, for the moment, let us ignore that and concentrate on the issue of education in science vs education in the humanities.
As far as Casey went, I have no disagreements; my argument comes in the next step.
I would argue that science is, in fact, about teaching people how to think. However, when I say science, I do not just mean, “CSCI 4061 – Introduction to Operating Systems ,” or, “MATH 4707 – Introduction to Combinatorics and Graph Theory,” or, “BMEN 2501 Cellular and Molecular Biology for Biomedical Engineers .” When I speak of science, I speak of using using our reasoning abilities and our means of gathering information to form conclusions that bring our thoughts as close as possible to objective processes in the real world.
In this regard, there can be no distinction between “science” and “the humanities.”
It is a false, pervasive, and dangerous dichotomy.
The point Casey makes above, that I quoted, is exactly on point: The idea of education is, yes, to teach us to think. But just as much, it is to make us more complete, more empathetic, more well-rounded human beings. That is also the role of art in life, as well as in education. A good education ought to help us understand the world, both physically and emotionally–or, if you will, spiritually.
I think it is one of the great crimes of capitalism that today fewer and fewer people have access, not only to training in how to think, but in how to get the most out of works of art. Of course, the closing of museums and the attacks on symphony orchestras are part of that same process.
I’m getting off-topic. Sorry. I’ve often heard things like, “science shows us how we change the world, the humanities show us why” and similar distinctions. They’re clever, but I don’t agree. My point is, I think it is misleading and pernicious to make such a sharp divide between the sciences and the humanities. What matters is being able to understand, operate in, and change our world. When it comes to education, to understanding how to think and to fully appreciate the world around us, we all need it all, and we all deserve it all, and, really, I don’t think that’s asking for so much.