The Great Debate: Humanities vs. Science

Albert Einstein

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‎”… we should mandate dial-up internet connections for all rooms that house humanities departments and the re-appropriation of network power to the people who actually make contributions to humanity: the mathematicians, engineers,and scientists.”

This was a comment by some truly  “eloquent” person in response to an article called “The Pleasure of Seeing the Deserving Fail” found in The Chronicle for Higher Education (The Pleasure of Seeing the Deserving Fail – Do Your Job Better – The Chronicle of Higher Education). Once my eyes stopped bugging out of my head and I was able to close my dropped jaw, I began to think about a world where people only focused on science, math, and engineering. Or a world where people in the humanities were not contributors to society in any way. That world, my friends, would not be my choice of homes.

How dare someone argue that the humanities are not of value to society? I acknowledge the worthiness of science, math, and economics. I admire people who do those things well. But, I also know plenty of people in those fields who are not capable of communicating with anyone unless it is another member of their field. Perhaps the arts and humanities don’t contribute to finding cures for cancer (which, may I remind you, hasn’t happened) or getting us to the moon. But, without them, how would anyone be able to raise funds for support of these worthwhile projects?

I’m sure that most of the great scientific minds we know about today did not limit their knowledge to math, science, and engineering. Albert Einstein loved music and played the violin. The study of music itself helps with understanding math. I’ve seen that myself as my daughter began taking piano lessons and her math scores improved. Galileo loved art and considered becoming a painter. Looking at the world through the eyes of art allows anyone to think differently, and leads to the creation of engineering marvels. Let’s not forget the importance of language, and storytelling, and the ability to write and express oneself. For example, Dr. Paul Farmer, an anthropologist and physician (oh no, he dared combine humanities with science) writes prolifically and speaks eloquently.

Education suffers in our world because of these attempts at making one field more valued than another. We’ve seen that in primary and secondary schools, where the focus on testing has not led to great success stories. I see it at the college level, when students don’t have the desire to learn anything beyond what is in their major or what will get them the job. The recent stories in the news about Brockton High School (which I have written about elsewhere) show that learning can be enhanced by combining humanities and science or math. By requiring students to write in every class, their grades have improved all around. If that isn’t evidence that an interdisciplinary approach to learning works, I don’t know what is.

Shouldn’t educators encourage learning for the joy of learning? The more we learn about anything, the greater our capacity to learn. If we keep our brains alive then that makes us stronger. But if we limit our knowledge to only one field or type of fields, it only makes us weaker.

For your amusement, when arts, humanities and science meet

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Beth
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:04:55

    My Nana, who was forced to drop out of school at 16 due to the death of her father, had the best phrase in the world. “It takes all kinds to make a world”. I think that fits in this case. Everything is important. We can’t all be proficient in everything and we must depend on others to help us along the way. If we all were exactly the same, with the same knowledge and limited interests, wouldn’t that be boring?

    Reply

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  3. Kathryn McCullough
    Apr 08, 2011 @ 17:41:25

    Amen, my friend, amen! And Paul Farmer is my hero! Have you read Tracy Kidder’s biography of him?
    Keep you chin up, dear Lisa!
    Kathy

    Reply

    • Lisa
      Apr 08, 2011 @ 17:46:53

      Yes, that’s how I got introduced to him. It was the book they gave to all the Freshman a few years ago. We got an interview with Tracy Kidder and lots of other events surrounding the book.

      Reply

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