A few posts ago I discussed the idea that there is a mini-war brewing between the STEM community and the rest of us. Lets call THe Rest of Us THRUs instead, because we all love a clever acronym. This topic kind of hits a nerve for me, as I’m the classic “I suck at math” type of student/person. From preK-12 I went to a school that emphasized liberal arts. Technically it emphasized all subjects, but in reality it was a liberal arts college shrunk down to a high school size.
It would be completely appropriate to say I managed to barely get through algebra II in high school. I think the kneejerk reaction to admitting to something as “heinous” as this is to say I was lazy. Sure, if that floats your boat, I was a lazy math student. It’s not a subject I ever connected with, or particularly enjoyed. Having said that, I consider myself someone who loves and respects the scientific process, and thus STEM fields appeal to me in theory, just not in practice. And, as anyone will tell you, the basis of many STEM fields lies in mathematics. If you can’t do multivariate calculus by the time you graduate college you’re probably going to fail in these fields. – Yes, that is in fact, hyperbole.
Having said all of that, just because I was a “lazy” math student, does not make me a lazy student overall. I repeat, just because I do not have the patience, or natural ability, to do math, does not mean I don’t have a tremendous interest in other subjects. The social sciences and liberal arts always interested me, and thus I pursued those subjects in college. And I got what I needed out of college, I became more aware of the world, more aware of the intellectual and historical foundations of the world we live in. This would not be possible without pursuing social science (political science) and liberal arts (philosophy) degrees. If you want to earn a law degree, the best way to prepare is by studying logic, which is a philosophical exercise. If you want to understand public opinion, international relations, and politics the best way to prepare is by studying political science. If you want to know how government actually works the best way to prepare is by studying public administration and policy.
None of the aforementioned subjects is the concentration of STEM degrees, and that’s fine. I’m friends with many STEM students, and many have the historical and philosophical background that is necessary to being a well rounded adult. My annoyance is not with these students, who are just pursuing their own interests; but rather, with the new political, social, and business environment we’re in. An environment that is so unimaginative they can’t see how, or why, liberal arts and social sciences remain important and why they’ll still be needed in the future.
What I think many STEM advocates fail to recognize is that THRU fields have a deep understanding of the world we live in. We think critically about problems in society, we identify previously unknown problems, and we find solutions to these problems. My fear is that as we emphasize STEM fields, we are losing track of why THRU fields are so critical to building a mature society.
It is necessary to repeat the point that I do not begrudge STEM students for having a marketable skill. I’m actually just as excited as everyone else in the new concentration on STEM fields, especially in early education. I even raved about the initiative Made in NY, which is mostly a STEM initiative, in my last post. Our country will in fact need people in these fields. My overall point is that just because something is currently marketable does not mean it renders our social sciences and liberal arts useless; and in all this excitement about STEMs lets not lose track of that.