Monday, March 30, 2015

An education on education

A thousand times, yes. Fareed Zakaria nailed this one.

It's not that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education isn't important — it is, in a big way — but it needs to coexist with the humanities, not replace it.

I'm a humanities guy and always have been. From an early age, I struggled with math and science but was off the charts on art, language and writing. Which meant I got to see the math kids bask in their triumphs on a daily basis while even my best compositions could be ripped apart by the teacher for some reason or another, or not suit the tastes of my classmates.

For you see, math has definite answers. The humanities are more arbitrary. The best mathematician or scientist can be quantified, and their critics easily validated or dismissed by their own relative knowledge on the subject matter (ahem, Jenny McCarthy). On the other hand, even the best writer or artist in the world will have many people thinking they're terrible, and those opinions are as valid as any fan's.

The economics of the respective disciplines work the same way: STEM is specific to many skilled fields, and thus the practical and financial benefits are apparent. Humanities degrees aren't as clear in that respect. Hence the "Do you want fries with that?" knee-slapper. Ho ho hee ho.

Zakaria's main point is that we need to foster creativity and critical thinking as much as we do technological know-how to keep economic pace in a challenging world climate. He points to Asian nations (which routinely top the world in STEM rankings) increasingly adding liberal arts to their curricula to begin channeling the creativity that is so often wasted there. They've figured out that there's more to humanities than fries.

To me, this common sense. Is a $50,000 degree in art history or philosophy worth the expense? Perhaps not. But that's a different debate, one that could swing in the other direction as technology evolves. All college degrees have some value, because earning them takes commitment, focus, sacrifice and a quick ability to solve problems. Which, really, is half the battle for anything.

The need for both STEM and the humanities is best driven home by how many straight-A STEM geniuses I've known who can make anyone feel woefully inadequate with their expertise, but who have begged for my help to craft a coherent sentence.

It takes all kinds.

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