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

Make: Online : Kinect hacks keep rolling in.

National Arts and Humanities Month


Human Rights

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Have you ever noticed that we have a month or a day dedicated to celebrating things that should just be part of every day life? For example: National Arts and Humanities Month, National Book Month, Universal Human Rights Month, African-American History Month, Women’s History Month etc. Of course, there are some pretty strange things that are honored with months as well (Prune Breakfast Month, National Macaroon Day???) For a list of these strange celebrations, check here

Now, I’m not complaining that October is National Arts and Humanities Month. I think it is wonderful that the government is encouraging people to celebrate arts and humanities. I obviously value them in my life. Nor am I complaining that there are months dedicated to African-american history, or Breast Cancer, or Women’s History or any of those things. What I am concerned about is the fact that we need to have months like this declared. Shouldn’t we be concerned about Universal Human Rights and Breast Cancer on a regular basis. Isn’t an  understanding of history of all sorts valuable to our understanding of modern times?

October is National arts and Humanities Month. Humanities relates to human culture, and is the study of philosophy, arts, literature, etc. as opposed to the sciences. So, by nature, don’t we all have something to do with humanities every day? I know everyone does not love literature or arts, but just thinking about life in any way is part of humanities. Then we come to the arts. Aren’t the arts just a natural part of human life? Art is not something separated from who we are. Watch young children for proof of that. One of the first ways they communicate is through art–whether it’s the mess they make with food or finger paints; by moving furniture or putting toys where they belong. They rearrange their world to express themselves, which to me is a sample of art. Then, when they get older, they express themselves through creative play and role-playing. Even the child who is going to grow up to be a scientist, mechanic, athlete, or the next math genius expresses those future roles in games and playing. Art is a part of who we are.

Why, then, do we need to set aside a special month to celebrate this thing that is fundamental to human existence and communication? It seems like something has shifted us away from valuing things that got us where we are today. So I declare this year, no century, as National Arts and Humanities Century!  As far as I am concerned, that incorporates a celebration of all that it means to be human. That includes history, health, literature, human rights, women and everything else. Yes, it even includes prune breakfasts.

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