The Times is reporting that students are high-tailing it away from the humanities, scurrying into “STEM” departments.
STEM is the educational buzzword of the day—theorists in education surf from fad to fad like teenage girls deluge then snub clothing stores in a mall—and it means science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Who can be against those?
Well, I, a scientist and mathematician, user and creator of modern technology, am against them. At least I’m opposed to the idea that they are adequate replacements for history, philosophy, literature, art, music. In the last, and at base, all of those are more important.
Science and math give us terrific toasters, efficient ways of annoying strangers with our electronic toys, and are darn good fields at extracting money from Leviathan. But none of them say word one about what is the best in life, which is the ideal way to live, what life is about, why life even exists, why anything exists, what is good and what evil, what is right and what wrong.
Sure, STEM extends the lives of a few of us. But just as a for instance, consider the hidden implications of that statement. Is living longer always better? Surely not. Otherwise there would be no mountain climbers, soldiers, priests—or doctors, come to that (exposed to plenty of diseases, those fellows). Are three extra years in Shady Acres nursing home strapped to an oxygen tank worth pursuing? Or should you smite the sounding furrows like Joshua Slocum? And you can go on and on, with not one question answerable by STEM.
There are two reasons for the turning tide away from a classic education, both of them rational, more or less.
By now the almost ineradicable idea that college is a jobs training program has seeped into the minds of parents and would-be students. Not many positions teaching philosophy, music, or art history. And those venturing into these courses have to endure repeatedly the you-wants-fries-with-that “joke”, and suffer jocular taunts that they must not want a lot of money.
And there it is: money. Always money. You can use all those equations you learned in STEM classes to track your endless bounty of money. What STEM can’t tell you is what the love of money leads to. Or why should want it in the first place. Incidentally, it’s not the pursuit of money which is objectionable (even bloggers have to eat), but its unthinking pursuit.
And there’s the real problem. All of life’s real questions are left tacit with STEM, to be filled in happenstance. Everybody thinks they know the answers to questions which they’ve spent scarce time studying.
Reason two: who the hell wants to sign up for a humanities class taught by raving ideologues, by professors more intent on indoctrination than on honest exploration of truth?
Exceptions? Sure there exceptions, and plenty of them. But they are exceptions and not the rule.
Who signs up for “Philosophy of Feminism” or “Theory of Gender” courses? Something has gone badly wrong by the time a student expresses interest in a “Studies” program (Black, Women’s, Queer, Latina; endless, endless). Academic historians are fascinated by race and sex quotas. Do teenagers need courses in masturbation (yes, these exist)? And modern music and art seem purposely designed as instruments of torture.
Is it any wonder students emerging from these majors are snot-nosed brats?
What’s worse is those kiddies who spend four years studying “disparities” think they know everything worth knowing about science, technology, and mathematics. They all quote cherry-picked statistics showing the end is nigh because the world isn’t being run along what they imagine to be Utopian lines. This wouldn’t be so awful except these people have the audacity to lecture STEM graduates on STEM topics.
What a dismal situation.
Solution? There is none. Or, at least, I have none to offer. Except this: turn off all your gadgets and go read a book, preferably one written before the demographic characteristics of the author became more important than his (or her!) words. Or go talk to a priest.