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Why We Need the Liberal Arts

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Danielle Allen has a long essay on the attack on civic education by proponents of vocational education who think STEM fields are the only legitimate fields. There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education. One of them is that it undermines political participation and an understanding of the world in which we all live together. That’s one of the most powerful parts of the essay.

To make judgments about the course of human events and our government’s role in them, we need history, anthropology, cultural studies, economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, not to mention math—especially the statistical reasoning necessary for probabilistic judgment—and science, as governmental policy naturally intersects with scientific questions. If we are to decide on the core principles that should orient our judgments about what will bring about safety and happiness, surely we need philosophy, literature, and religion or its history. Then, since the democratic citizen does not make or execute judgments alone, we need the arts of conversation, eloquence, and prophetic speech. Preparing ourselves to exercise these arts takes us again to literature and to the visual arts, film, and music.

In other words, we need the liberal arts. They were called the free person’s arts for a reason.

To say that we need all these disciplines in order to cultivate participatory readiness is not to say that we need precisely the versions of these disciplines that existed in the late eighteenth century. To the contrary, it is the job of today’s scholars and teachers, learning from the successes and errors of our predecessors, to build the most powerful intellectual tools we can. Where their versions of the tools were compatible with preserving patriarchy, enslaving black Africans, and committing genocide against indigenous peoples, ours must not be. This revision of the liberal arts curriculum is controversial but necessary, for we want to retain the purposes and intellectual methods of the liberal arts, if not all of its content. We still need to cultivate capacities for social diagnosis, ethical reasoning, cause-and-effect analysis, and persuasive argumentation.

Given that the liberal arts are especially useful for training citizens, it should come as little surprise that attainment in the humanities and social sciences appears to correlate with increased engagement in politics. There is a statistically significant difference between the rates of political participation among humanities and STEM graduates. Data from the Department of Education reveal that, among 2008 college graduates, 92.8 percent of humanities majors have voted at least once since finishing school. Among STEM majors, that number is 83.5 percent. And, within ten years of graduation, 44.1 percent of 1993 humanities graduates had written to public officials, compared to 30.1 percent of STEM majors. As college graduates, the students are generally of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting that other distinctions must account for the difference in political engagement.

Of course, the self-selection of students into the humanities and STEM majors may mean that these data reflect only underlying features of the students rather than the effects of teaching they receive. Yet the same pattern appears in a study by political scientist Sunshine Hillygus, which controls for students’ preexisting levels of interest in politics.

Hillygus also finds that the differences in political engagement among college graduates are mirrored in K–12 education. High SAT verbal scores correlate with increased likelihood of political participation, while high SAT math scores correlate with decreased likelihood of participation. Again, since socioeconomic effects on SAT scores move both verbal and math scores in the same direction, this difference between how high verbal and high math scores affect the likelihood of participation must be telling us something about the relationship between attainment in specific subject domains and participatory readiness. Moreover, the SAT effect endures even when college-level curricular choices are controlled for. Just as Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Shleifer conclude, it is attainment in the verbal domain that correlates with participatory readiness.

Of course, there are probably zero non-STEM professors who argue that we don’t need engineers and chemists and biologists and computer scientists. We definitely need all of these people. However, a society that trains people only for these sorts of professions is a barren society, devoid of generations of human knowledge and understanding, one with real consequences for our politics and society.

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  • so-in-so

    I wonder if they would get less hate if they weren’t called “liberal” arts?

    More seriously, evaluating social development and history, parsing language, etc. are obviously a big no-no with RW reactionaries. You start to think there might be better ways to do things… who knows where that leads?

    • Thirtyish

      I wonder if they would get less hate if they weren’t called “liberal” arts?

      My guess? Probably not. There is–and has always been–a contingent among us that regards anything non-technical and not strictly utilitarian as frivolous (and morally suspect), at best.

    • Crusty

      That “arts” word isn’t helping much either.

      If they were called something like the conservative precepts, I feel like they might be doing better. And I don’t feel it would be that misleading- great books, philosophy, history- that stuff is all old, so conservative works, and precepts, that sounds nice, right?

      • delazeur

        Liberal arts is Chomsky. Conservative precepts is Gibbon.

        (Interesting side note, I was recently reading about how Richard Russell’s reading of Gibbon influenced his policy positions during the Cold War, in particular his willingness to fund military projects without regard for their cost. I am honestly terrified of people justifying 21st century foreign policy on the basis of 18th century historical analysis.)

        • sonamib

          Aww, but I love Decline and Fall! That book (or series of books) shouldn’t be taken for The Truth™, but I think it’s pretty amusing to read what an 18th century historian thought about the Roman Empire.

        • Derelict

          I am honestly terrified of people justifying 21st century foreign policy on the basis of 18th century historical analysis.

          That’s at least a slightly better foundation than most of the stuff on which conservatives base foreign policy. There is, for example, the “Toughness Doctrine” which states that bombing their villages and killing their loved ones is the only way to get foreign peoples to love America and cease their terrorist activities. Or the “Resolve Doctrine” which states that America NOT invading some small troublespot represents an open invitation to [Russia/China/Iran/Bad-Guy-To-Be-Named-Later] to meddle in some other troublespot.

          • delazeur

            Okay, fair, I am even more terrified of people justifying 21st century foreign policy on the basis of nothing at all.

        • Karen24

          I would prefer weekly root canals than having to read any more Chomsky than was required in one undergrad class. BLECCHHH!!!! Gibbon, on the other had, is pretty easy and fun to read. That said, yeah, don’t base contemporary policy regarding ISIS on what worked or didn’t against the Visigoths.

          • delazeur

            Do you dislike Chomsky for his ideas, or for his writing style?

            • Ahuitzotl

              yes

          • Ruviana

            The only thing I ever read by Chomsky as an undergrad was Syntactic Structures. Do people actually assign Chomsky’s political stuff? (I say this as someone who likes some of it.)

            • Linnaeus

              Some of Chomsky’s political was assigned in a course I took on American social and political thought. One of the best courses I have ever taken.

          • Colin Day

            Is it his politics, his linguistics, or both?

      • AB

        See Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern.

  • Joe_JP

    Kudos.

    I really enjoyed her Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.

  • Thirtyish

    There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education. One of them is that it undermines political participation and an understanding of the world in which we all live together.

    Not to mention that it also inhibits both creative and critical thinking, both of which are, IMO, essential in order to as fully as possible participate in our world.

    • Karen24

      You’d think someone would note that the reason we love our smartphones is because we like to read things on them. (And yes, I know that a large plurality, if not a majority, of Internet traffic is actually porn, or porn + shopping. Still.) Without content, smartphones are expensive lamps.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Or very small TV’s.

        • Karen24

          Which still require content, which can’t be produced by doing nothing but calculate.

          (As I finished typing that sentence, I wondered whether somewhere there is calculus-themed porn. Because I value my sanity I am never going to try to answer that question.)

          • njorl

            You could have a double feature:
            Rieman Sum!
            The Residue around the Pole

            (sorry, channeling memories of my younger self.)

          • rea

            I won’t link to it, but apparently there is:

            Watch Calculus Analytics Geometry porn videos for free, here on Pornhub.com.

          • Linnaeus

            The answer to “is there [blank]-themed porn?” is always yes.

      • porn, or porn + shopping

        I thought porn was a form of shopping.

    • Not to mention that it also inhibits both creative and critical thinking, both of which are, IMO, essential in order to as fully as possible participate in our world.

      This…isn’t true.

      I have a PhD in philosophy from in the US and I currently am a Reader in Computer Science in the UK. In the UK, we generally don’t have general liberal arts education, that is, people who take computer science only take computer science. That is, you apply to the particular School and primarily do all your undergrad there.

      I didn’t detect any difference in creativity and critical thinking or the effort to encourage both than I did teaching distribution intro philosophy courses in the US.

      I would also suggest that it doesn’t necessarily inhibit political participation etc. BCS accreditation requires engaging with ethical, legal, and other ways our discipline interacts with society. I grant that we don’t typically teach them the difference between consequentialism and deontology or between liberalism and communitarianism, but those aren’t necessary to be a rounded person or good citizen.

      Indeed, unless you think STEM education actively blights people, a college level liberal arts education is only necessary to these things if we think that people who don’t go to college are similarly blighted. But that’s a bit off, right?

      • petesh

        Two different points: The UK does do specialization at a startlingly early age, or at least used to back when I and the dinosaurs were young. (I had no formal science after 14, since I was fast-tracked to O-Levels.) If society has fallen apart, it’s hard to blame it on this.

        In recent decades, it seems that the increased US reliance on industry funding has produced a serious imbalance at university level in the direction not so much of science as of technology; a distinction I learned about in philosophy; aint that peculiar?

        • Two different points: The UK does do specialization at a startlingly early age, or at least used to back when I and the dinosaurs were young. (I had no formal science after 14, since I was fast-tracked to O-Levels.) If society has fallen apart, it’s hard to blame it on this.

          Indeed! I was shocked when I came here. 3 year undergrad with ONLY CS COURSES!?!?!? HOW CAN THIS BE?!?! (And a 3 year PhD with NO COURSEWORK WHATSOEVER!!! HOW STIFLINGLY NARROW!!!)

          But..erhm…everyone seems ok. It all seems to work out. I don’t think our PhD students are worse than anyone else’s. Soooo, I’ve come more to believe that a lot of features of an education system that seem necessary are just there because history.

          In recent decades, it seems that the increased US reliance on industry funding has produced a serious imbalance at university level in the direction not so much of science as of technology; a distinction I learned about in philosophy; aint that peculiar?

          It’s not peculiar :)

          I’m not sure about the funding issue in the US stretching back decades, though.

          • sonamib

            I forget, is the UK part of the Bologna agreement? What you describe sounds pretty much like what I’ve had to deal with in Belgium. Except that the shortest PhDs are 4 years long.

            • Lurker

              The Bologna agreement does not dictate a minimum time for Ph.D or for any degree. It only gives the recommended time.

              In many countries, a Ph.D is a rather free-form degree. I know a scientist who got her Ph.D in three years after getting a B.Sc. and a M.Sc in three years combined. Her dissertation consisted of nine Physical Review A papers, together with three Phys. Rev. Lett. papers.

              So, she took six years for a work for which the recommended time was nine, and with pretty good results.

              • sonamib

                The Bologna agreement does not dictate a minimum time for Ph.D or for any degree. It only gives the recommended time.

                Not even for a bachelor’s degree? I thought one of the main selling points was the ability for students on the Erasmus program to study abroad at the same pace that they would study at home.

                • Lurker

                  At least around here, there is no minimum time. In my alma mater, class and recitation participation is, with the exception of laboratory courses and some special cases, voluntary. If you can absorb the material without going to lectures, you can simply take the exam. Or you can take an overload of courses. For example, I took second-year electronics as a freshman and several third-year mathematics courses as a sophomore.

                  As there is no tuition, no one is interested whether you overload yourself. You can study to your heart’s content, as long as you study those courses which your university admission entitles you to study. (For example, if you are admitted to study electrical engineering, you can’t walz into an architecture class.)

                  As far as I know, this is still the case for most fields. The recommendation time is just a recommendation, but essentially, pacing faster than that is really hard.

            • I forget, is the UK part of the Bologna agreement?

              Yes.

              The UK funding agencies (at least in STEM) prefer submission within 4 years and viva/final submission within 5 with everyone getting stricter about the initial submission.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            I think coursework for the PhD is a complete waste of time. But, unless your British PhD is from Oxford or Cambridge it is impossible to get a job in the US. A degree from SOAS is only good in the “Orient” and Africa because nobody in the US has ever heard of the place.

            • Linnaeus

              Re: coursework, I disagree. It was quite valuable for me. YMMV.

              • J. Otto Pohl

                In the UK there is an intensive one year MA before starting the three (two in my case) year PhD program. When I did the MA at SOAS there were three classes and an MA dissertation. In my major class we had to read just about every book written or translated into English on the history of Soviet Central Asia. This was back in 2001 so it was feasible at five books a week. Then you took a methods class and a minor class. My minor was the Ottoman Empire. Since the MA already covered the entire then existing English language historiography on Central Asian history there really was no need for any further coursework.

                • In the UK there is an intensive one year MA before starting the three (two in my case) year PhD program.

                  That’s not required (we admit from the 3rd year, albeit rarely without other experience).

                  In CS, a problem we have is that the MSc isn’t designed to prep you for PhD work as most of our MSc aren’t going to get PhDs. So the coursework isn’t quite right.

                  We are moving to 4 year PhDs anyway.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  CS and history are not really comparable though. I see the justification all the time that I should never get a job in the US because I had no PhD coursework. The reason a UK PhD history has no coursework is because it is in the MA.

                • Well, I’ll be damned:

                  http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/programmes/list/03030/history-phd/

                  The MA is a requirement. Interesting!

                • Linnaeus

                  In my program, you go right into the Ph.D. track. The MA isn’t terminal – you get one “on the way” to the Ph.D., but it’s a formality. You choose four fields of study and take reading and seminar courses in all of them. You can’t do that in one year.

            • wjts

              But, unless your British PhD is from Oxford or Cambridge it is impossible to get a job in the US.

              And that is why my friend with a PhD from the University of Roehampton is not a tenured professor and why I never meet professors who did their PhD at Sheffield at conferences.

            • twbb

              “unless your British PhD is from Oxford or Cambridge it is impossible to get a job in the US. A”

              I’ve encountered UCL graduates, and depending on the discipline SOAS is respected.

              Of course, I definitely approve of not allowing 23-year-old Brits who got a PhD in 3 years after their 3 year bachelors into . No, they are not at the same level as someone who spend 7 years post-BA reading/writing/teaching to get their PhD, and it is unfair of the latter to accept them as at the same level.

            • Lurker

              It depends probably a oot on the field. In my field, a Finnish Ph.D (actually, a D.Sc) has a coursework requirement of some 60 ETCS, corresponding to year’s full courseload in US parlance. In addition, these courses are required to be courses that are either doctoral-program only or from M.Sc curricula. Thus, they are required to be advanced studies. (If you have a really good reason, you might be able to include 400 level undergrad courses from cross-disciplinary fields, but that required a waiver in my time.)

              In a minor university, like mine, the department provided only so many courses. To get the requirements full, we needed to arrange common seminars with other laboratories. Essentially, you left with a very good understanding of the advanced topics both in your own field and in the neighboring fields.

          • Philip

            fwiw I have an American friend who did CS (well, CS and math, I can’t remember exactly what it was called) at Oxford and really regrets not going somewhere he’d get a real liberal arts education.

            • I love my liberal arts education. I loved having coursework in my PhD. They brought ongoing pleasures.

              OTOH, I had no computer science training except one programming course in undergrad, a computability class in Grad School (in the philosophy dept, so not as useful as one might think), and I audited a prolog course in grad school (plus symbolic logic of course). So….

            • petesh

              I DID read PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford, and I deeply regret my lack of a real liberal arts education. En route, I interviewed at Reading, where the friendly professor told me that if I wanted to learn the subjects I should go with him but if I was accepted I should go to Oxford. I was, and did, and it remains a credential of sorts.

              But I went hoping to study the economics of politics and the philosophy of economics etc etc … and the courses were siloed really badly. So I learned about the economics of specialized imports from Lebanon and Afghanistan and the Sandoz lab. And a little about women, but not enough because at the time the wretched college was all-male. I did, however, learn a lot about the British class system. Enough to emigrate.

              • I did, however, learn a lot about the British class system. Enough to emigrate.

                FTW!

          • The Lorax

            Philosopher here. I actually think UK PhDs tend to be worse than US PhDs because they don’t have the philosophical background you get with 3-4 years of coursework in the US. I’ve heard others voice the same view, though never very audibly. If you’re just doing research in one particular area, that may not be a huge problem. But if you’re teaching a broad range of courses (as the vast majority of academic jobs call for), it can be a problem.

        • delazeur

          In recent decades, it seems that the increased US reliance on industry funding has produced a serious imbalance at university level in the direction not so much of science as of technology; a distinction I learned about in philosophy; aint that peculiar?

          During the Cold War, STEM funding came almost entirely from the military. Towards the end of the Cold War corporations started shutting down their R&D departments and funding university research instead. This trend has accelerated, and we currently have a mix of military and corporate funded research (with some non-negligible contributions from other government agencies like NIH). I’m not sure this has really resulted in a shift from science to technology, though. Researchers have pretty much always been trying to spin their work as technology-focused so that they would continue to get money for what is actually basic science. (“Basic science” being a term of art for research that does not have obvious applications.)

          I’m not too sure about what was going on before the Cold War, but my impression is that it was often corporate-funded and generally done on much tighter budgets. Interesting side note: math and theoretical physics became “Jewish science” in part because all you needed was pen and paper, and Jewish scientists couldn’t get funding for anything more than that.

          • Philip

            I think we have lost some of the “general research” oriented R&D, though. There’s nothing today like the Bell Labs of yesteryear.

            • delazeur

              Bell Labs is sorely missed. This isn’t a very tech-friendly forum, but I do think there is a bit of “general research” R&D (in the tradition of Bell Labs) at Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

              • Esp. Google. They’re all over the place.

                Apple still, I believe, hasn’t replaced the Advanced Technology Group that Jobs axed on his return, which really was a (computer) oriented Bell Labs like thing. Paul Allen funds various groups at various times.

                Microsoft’s is more computer oriented but otherwise quite general and forward thinking.

                IBM Watson labs, of course.

                Loads of others, really. It goes in cycles. A lot of companies go through periods of outsourcing a lot then wanting to bring it in.

              • Philip

                There is (I work at one of those, so I know firsthand!) but obviously without the semi-public structure and the rules governing sharing of their research. Some are better than others about letting people publish (Apple is notoriously bad, for example, and Microsoft Research publishes a ton of great stuff), but it’s just inherently limited.

                • And let’s not forget Xerox Parc!

                • Philip

                  Definitely. Alan Kay is one of my heroes.

                • Definitely. Alan Kay is one of my heroes.

                  And a pretty nice guy.

                  Dan Ingalls is Alan’s hero :)

              • Michael Cain

                The Bell Labs of song and legend was a result of the confluence of several things. First, a regulated monopoly business; in all but a handful of states, AT&T was allowed to put the research part of the Labs into the monopoly telephone rates. Second, it was a business that spanned a wide range of technology; Penzias and Wilson weren’t doing astronomy research, they were trying to solve a microwave radio interference problem. Third, AT&T’s monopoly required them to license tech they developed cheaply outside of their line of business; UNIX was cheap to universities because AT&T couldn’t be in the commercial operating system business.

                Take away any of those three and the Labs’ impact is much smaller.

                • Philip

                  It also helped that, since they were a monopoly, they could safely hurl money at hiring people like Claude Shannon to do, basically, whatever they felt like. So we got information theory springing fully formed from Shannon’s head even though only a tiny corner of it mattered for AT&T.

                • delazeur

                  in all but a handful of states, AT&T was allowed to put the research part of the Labs into the monopoly telephone rates

                  I thought it was the other way around: they were required or encouraged to fund public research as a condition of their monopoly. That’s just something I’ve heard, though.

      • Tracy Lightcap

        Two things here.

        First, from what I’ve read what is referred to as secondary education in the UK system usually ends up with students having the equivalent of a first semester sophomore education in a US college/university. In short, they’ve already had their “core courses” in high school. Hence the 3 year degrees; the other stuff that is covered in the first two years of US post secondary education is already over. This post is comparing apples and oranges, iow.

        Second, this shows up in the UK overall. Getting an advanced collegiate degree is nowhere near as big a deal there as it is here; there’s no way that John Major would have even gotten elected to Congress in the US, much less been made its de facto chief executive. I think the reason for that and for the lack of difference in creativity that Bijan correctly notes is that the tools are delivered at a different level, not that they aren’t delivered at all.

        And there’s this: a friend of mine moved to the UK back in the late 80s and her son, a French horn player, went to Oxford in music. He was interested in computerized music and wanted to take courses in computer science (easy for him; he’s a math whiz) to get up to speed on things. His mentors at Oxford absolutely forbade it and told him to stick to the French horn. Now, tell me that a more flexible education system – like, say, at MIT – wouldn’t have gone along with that and that Shaun wouldn’t have had to delay his production of music until after he left college.

        • First, from what I’ve read what is referred to as secondary education in the UK system usually ends up with students having the equivalent of a first semester sophomore education in a US college/university.

          Really? That’s…extraordinary. I don’t see it.

          And how is this possible? That’s like every UK first year having had two years of AP courses. That seems improbable.

          His mentors at Oxford absolutely forbade it and told him to stick to the French horn. Now, tell me that a more flexible education system – like, say, at MIT – wouldn’t have gone along with that and that Shaun wouldn’t have had to delay his production of music until after he left college.

          This is where it’s damn stupid: Way too hard to switch programs or even do cross stuff.

          • Tracy Lightcap

            The comparisons are based on the A-level requirements and the number and kind of courses taken. Needless to say, most of us in the US don’t see much effect from core courses in our students either. Remarkable thing = the students actually remember that stuff. I have more former students who mention my basic level courses then the advanced ones. But, of course, that never happens until 10 or so years after the fact.

            • The comparisons are based on the A-level requirements and the number and kind of courses taken.

              Do you have a pointer to these analyses? I’m super interested.

              Thanks for bringing this up.

              • Tracy Lightcap

                Sorry, Bijan; I’ve been busy otherwise.

                Here’s a link that does a pretty good job of showing the differences I was posting about:

                http://www.gsgi.co.uk/articles/from-american-schools-to-british-english-national-curriculum

                And here’s one on the requirements:

                http://www.dodea.edu/nonDoD/upload/UK_ed_.pdf

                See pp. 34 – 38.

                What it comes down to is that the school leaving and A-level tests in the UK are a good deal harder then what US students are subjected to and that the A-levels are a different breed of cat from the AP courses we use over here. Also, the number of required courses in UK secondary schools is much greater. Hence the general conclusion that UK A-level students are a good deal further along (1st semester sophs is a rule of thumb) then US entering freshmen are.

            • MacK

              That’s probably pretty fair. Irish honours leaving certificate is about 1 year shy of UK A level – but in Ireland they typically do 5-7 subjects if which 3 usually have to be languages to matriculate, one is math, while in the UK three A-levels is typical.. Both are harder than US high school, AP or above. College in the UK is 3-years because the Brits have usually an A-level in the major they enter to study, Ireland is 4.

              French Bac is perhaps tougher, but each type is narrower.

            • twbb

              It seems implausible that with similar length of school days, hours spent on homework, and similar average SAT scores, that UK students are somehow years ahead of their American counterparts. It is certainly inconsistent with the British undergraduate and graduate students I have encountered in my time, as well as the people I encountered during my time in England.

              Either the Brits are secret savants hiding their awesomeness from us simpletons, or there might be a bit of confirmation bias going on.

              • Yeah, I’m pretty sceptical that there’s *that* big an efficiency of teaching gap, esp. that wasn’t hugely publicised.

                My impression is, basically, in spite of seemingly vast differences in timing and structure, the outcomes are broadly comparable. That needs explanation.

            • I have more former students who mention my basic level courses then the advanced ones. But, of course, that never happens until 10 or so years after the fact.

              Which (to diverge from the topic immediately at hand) is just one more of the many serious problems with cargo-cult “teaching evaluations”. Fuck that shit; I am so glad I’m out of it forever.

          • GFW

            American high school is generally seen as “slower” than European. I met a Finnish teacher who had done a year here in the US as an exchange student during high school and she said that a cost of doing so was that it basically didn’t count towards graduation in Finland.

            • Lurker

              She was completely correct. A classmate of mine went to US as an exchange student and graduated a year later. She got essentially no high school credit for the US classes, and frankly, as an honest person, did not even try to get it. Even if the classes had some content, they were too far removed from the Finnish curriculum to be accepted.

              Not even the English language courses were credited. We were, apparently, reading higher-level texts, and actually, she was not even the best student in the English class, despite having spent a year in the US.

              • Eli Rabett

                They teach English in Finnland, not American

                Years ago when Eli was working in Germany, the US academics who brought their kids over and put them into the German schools systems watched the kids fail (ok not do stellar) in English because their English was American. There are enough differences

      • Dilan Esper

        I really hate to agree with Bijan, but…

        I agree with Bijan.

    • DrDick

      My father, a chemical engineer (who did calculus in his head in hexadecimal), always said that literature, music, history, and the rest all made him a better engineer and a better person. He disdained other engineers whose education was narrowly focused.

      • He disdained other engineers whose education was narrowly focused.

        I think he was pretty clearly wrong to do so.

      • sonamib

        Seconding Bijan. There are other ways to engage with history, litterature, etc. than by formally studying them at the university level.

        • delazeur

          That’s true, but I think very few engineers who eschew liberal arts courses end up pursuing those topics later.

          I am an engineer, and while my formal liberal arts education was probably something more than the average engineer but less than the average LGM commenter, it is something I studied (and continue to study) on my own. I think the liberal arts have been valuable to my engineering career, but I see a lot of engineers who disregard them and I think they suffer for it.

          • That’s true, but I think very few engineers who eschew liberal arts courses end up pursuing those topics later.

            I rather suspect that having them take courses in it wouldn’t have changed that fact for many.

            Plus, I don’t see that the distain is warranted. It’s unclear that those people would have been so much better with a different educational mix. It’s not clear that you’d have been worse! Or that some other mix would or wouldn’t have the same effect.

            I really don’t feel that the UK is full of inferior college educated people. I don’t see that UK PhDs are worse or less rounded than anywhere else in the US. And yet, the UK Education system slots you narrow very early and keeps you there.

            It’s a heavy lift, given these facts, to a strong overall benefit for adding liberal arts to a STEM education. I’m not saying it isn’t the case, but it’s going to require a ton of evidence.

            • sonamib

              I rather suspect that having them take courses in it wouldn’t have changed that fact for many.

              I thought about writing something like this, but on second thought I figured delazeur’s argument was something like :

              1. In the US, you have a choice to take some humanities classes even if you’re majoring in engineering

              2. People who don’t make that choice are on average less interested in the humanities than people who do make that choice

              That’s true enough, there’s probably a real correlation there. But lack of interest in the humaninities is only one of many reasons for why one would refuse to take a humanities class.

            • delazeur

              In general, I agree with you on all those points. I think where the disdain comes from is that the “engineer who doesn’t care about liberal arts” is very much a type, and it can get irritating when you are the one engineer on your team who does care about liberal arts. Doesn’t mean adding liberal arts courses to their education would fix this, though.

              • Well, close minded snobs are definitely annoying :)

                My impression about many engineering fields is that there are VERY obnoxious subcultures (i.e., types). Software engineering certainly has that. And those types tend to get identified with the field (e.g., “asocial nerds”) (which, btw, seems to play a roll in keeping women away).

            • DrDick

              Disdain was probably too strong a word, but he thought their lack of background in or appreciation of liberal arts topics made them less effective as engineers and less interesting as people. This was a long time ago, he died almost 15 years ago and retired in the late 1980s.

          • sonamib

            That’s true, but I think very few engineers who eschew liberal arts courses end up pursuing those topics later.

            True enough. I do think it’s a wild jump to conclude that an engineer isn’t interested in arts, history or litterature just because they had a narrow-focused education.

            I mean, I’m a Roman history enthusiast, I regularly read about it. But I know would hate hate hate writing a paper about it. I’m happy enough to read the experts without the pressure of being graded over my understanding of it.

            • njorl

              I feel much the same way (physicist here), but I would also love to discuss Roman history in the setting of a small history course.

              If I could pick an optimal education for myself, it would have been an intense, pressure-filled period of instruction in physics with only the necessary humanities for my career, like writing, followed by several years of taking humanities courses at a leisurely pace with little pressure.

              By taking it all at once, I wound up resenting the humanities courses I took at times.

        • This seems to me increasingly not true, not all the time.

          Twenty-five years ago, the proof of it that was offered was the possibility of discussing books on Usenet!

          • sonamib

            I’m not sure I get you. What’s not true?

            • There are other ways to engage with history, litterature, etc. than by formally studying them at the university level.

              Maybe I don’t understand what you meant by that sentence. Could you explain?

              I mean, obviously some people don’t want to read poetry and there’s no need to “disdain” them. And some people will read detective novels or journalistic accounts of foreign wars, and that’s it. But what is this “engagement” with the world of literature, fine arts, etc., that isn’t helped along by taking a college course or two?

              • sonamib

                What I meant is that formally studying litterature is one way of engaging with litterature. But it’s not the only way. You can also just read books, attend poetry recitals, read book reviews, critics, etc.

                Studying litterature at the university level is a good way to become very knowledgeable about the subject, but not everyone needs or wants to be an expert. Sometimes you just enjoy being an enthusiastic outsider.

                But what is this “engagement” with the world of literature, fine arts, etc., that isn’t helped along by taking a college course or two?

                Of course taking a college course helps. But some people aren’t cut out for it. As I said upthread, while I enjoy learning about Roman history, I wouldn’t enjoy being graded over it.

                • Oh, I agree. But I do think that in recent years, specialization has crept into the liberal arts, too, and they have become more a part of universities (with MFA degrees and similar) and less a part of general civil society. And with modernism and postmodernism, there’s a tendency for art, especially, to separate from the general culture (so only those with training can appreciate it).

      • CHD

        This, in spades.
        Critical reading – of novels or of history – is a closely related skill to being a good analyst in the OR (Operations Research) sense of the word. OR is definitely ascendant in the corporate world these days but IMO frequently fails to get an asnwer quickly enough to be useful, if it gets an answer at all, because of a monomaniacal focus on mathematical optimization over spending the time/effort to read beteeen the lines – finding the analogy, and (since every organization has people) understanding what makes people tick.
        And similarly if you can’t write a coherent paragraph about a random topic, my experience mentiring younger engineers says your computer code is fairly likely to be formulaeic too.
        My son is studying engineering at a prestigious research university. I thought, great, he can take a fair amount of really strong liberal arts classes too, something that I missed going to a smaller engieerinng-and-business-only college. Wrong. His schedule has far fewer non STEM courses than I did. Luckily he reads a lot just for the fun if it – but I worry some abiut his peers.

        • your computer code is fairly likely to be formulaeic too

          Well, at least that means it depends on two or more formulae, so it beats formulaic!

        • DrDick

          This was, I think, his position on the matter. He always said the liberal arts made him a better thinker.

      • twbb

        From a biographical level, the really brilliant thinkers who pushed science forward have frequently tended to be knowledgeable of, and interested in, the humanities.

    • MacK

      Twaddle and representative of the same snobbery that drives people to suggest only STEM education. I know very few scientists that are not interested in art, politics, etc.

      • Philip

        I know a goddamn lot of computer scientists with no interest in art or politics, and it’s both frustrating and horrifying, considering the problems (imo) it causes and aggravates in our industry.

        • sparks

          Second this. When in university, I knew few CS students evince any interest in art, culture, or history, and it was much worse when I worked in the field. I’d have been shocked if I ever saw one of them at an art show, but of course I never did.

          • Really? I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in my undergraduate department played an instrument.

  • AcademicLurker

    As a professor of biophysics, I’d like to state for the record that I despise the currently trendy “STEM is serious, everything else is frivolous” nonsense that’s infected discussions of education.

    I’d like to believe that, as with most other noxious things in education, it comes primarily from administrators, consultants and “reform” grifters rather than from actual scientists.

    • If you are like my colleagues in similar fields who have expressed this to me, it’s partly because you end up with a lot of students who don’t want to be in your courses but are told they have to be by their parents.

      • I ended up with a lot of students in my philosophy courses who didn’t want to be there but were told by the administration that if they wanted the degree they had to take them.

        One pharmacy student was particularly outraged.

        Encouraging students to branch out often works well. Forcing them sometimes does. But often, they just skate as best they can.

        • True, but there’s a big difference between courses for general education requirements and a major.

          • But then…what’s the argument? All STEM majors are STEM focused, so the only liberal arts any STEM students get today is electives and distribution.

            Are you saying that only majors in humanities subjects are encouraged to be politically active? Or that there’s some osmosis?!

            I really don’t understand the point here.

            We should keep the humanities because 1) they are instrinically valuable and 2) they are a very good fit for a lot of people. Forcing people into things which are a bad fit typically doesn’t work out well whether it’s business or science or literature or the violin.

            • Forcing people into things which are a bad fit typically doesn’t work out well whether it’s business or science or literature or the violin.

              That’s precisely what I’m saying. Today, students are officially encouraged to major in STEM majors or business. Majors in humanities are plummeting throughout the country. College administrations take the vast majority of faculty resources and steer them toward STEM fields. My colleagues in Business and Chemistry talk of dealing with students who don’t want to be there, not for one Gen Ed course, but for 4 years. These are students who would love to major in History or English but are explicitly told by their parents that they won’t pay for the education if they don’t major in STEM or business. The administrators encourage this.

              • Ok, but what I object to is from your OP:

                There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education. One of them is that it undermines political participation and an understanding of the world in which we all live together.

                The problem we’re talking about here is that forcing people into things they don’t like an aren’t a good fit is bad. But that’s not STEM vs. Humanties, but also STEM vs. Business or Humanities vs. STEM.

              • Denverite

                My colleagues in Business and Chemistry talk of dealing with students who don’t want to be there, not for one Gen Ed course, but for 4 years.

                Just a nit, but one that comes up frequently. “Business” isn’t a STEM subject. Nor is accounting or finance or MIS.

                • That’s why I said STEM or business earlier in the comment

                • Denverite

                  Yeah, but your post focuses exclusively on STEM.

              • NonyNony

                Today, students are officially encouraged to major in STEM majors or business. Majors in humanities are plummeting throughout the country.

                I think that this is more because of parents only being willing to pay the big money for their kids to get STEM or business degree than anything that the administrations are actually doing. The administrators are all pretty mercenary – if tomorrow demand was there for giant humanities programs and students were fleeing STEM fields and business colleges to take pure Mathematics or to become History majors, they’d follow the money.

                What has happened is that the perception has shifted to be that education is entirely about job training. And that doesn’t really come from college administrators – that comes from a change in the general culture over the past 30 years. And I think a lot of it comes from the fact that per student tuition dollars have gotten a lot more expensive, so parents expect an immediate “ROI” on the money they’re spending on their child. It was one thing for a parent to foot the bill for a four year English degree that their child might or might not be able to get a job with back in 1980 when tuition at a state university averaged around $4400/year in 2016 adjusted dollars and there were plenty of people hiring folks without a college degree at all and a college degree of any kind gave you a leg up in the hiring process. Average tuition this year is more like $10K/year for a public institution – that’s more than doubled in real dollars. While pay has not more than doubled since 1980. And these days a college degree is a floor to be considered at all for a lot of good positions – if you don’t have the right major they filter your application right out of the system.

                Meanwhile more people are getting college degrees. In 1980 something like 15% of the population was getting a college degree. Now it’s 30%. Do you think that extra 15% is getting a degree because they love learning, or because they want job training and certification? Those are people who would be getting a job right out of high school if the job market was still good for people getting jobs right out of high school.

                The combination of the massive increase in costs to the individual combined with the upswing of people feeling that they need to have a college degree to get a good job means that you have a LOT more people in the system who view their education purely as a job training/credentialing duty and not as something they do because they want to become better educated for its own benefits. That suggests that if you want liberal arts majors to be a higher proportion of the students in a university you either need to convince students that a liberal arts degree is a good credential for getting a job or you need to have good jobs that people don’t need to have college degrees for at all to reduce the number of people going to college back to previous levels when the distribution of students across majors was less extreme. (But of course that would lead to a lot of layoffs of faculty also because it would be shrinking the pool of students back to more like what it was before the credentialing race started rather than shifting students over to liberal arts degrees.)

        • One pharmacy student was particularly outraged.

          There’s a “Socratic method” joke waiting to be made there.

        • Tracy Lightcap

          This is a matter of curriculum design. The widely adopted “hour glass” model of curriculum can make this a side issue.

          Take a look at how Duke does it. If the areas of knowledge you want the student to have are laid out and she is told to focus her education toward a particular mastery then the range of courses that can be taken to aid in achieving that mastery and acquiring general knowledge supportive of it can be quite broad. And the additional exposure can be very useful.

      • Karen24

        My college roommate started out in 1981 as a COBOL major. (Really, that was a thing back then.). She went though CS, “petroleum land management, and accounting all at her parents’ insistence. She ended up with a degree in German, which she always loved and for which she had an aptitude but which her parents thought was a complete waste of time. She got a job as a translator for a software company and is now a manager, something skill at outdated programming languages would likely not have produced.)

        More generally, there are lots of people who are quite smart and dedicated enough for college but who simply hate STEM fields. I was one of them, but I at least convinced my parents that being a lawyer required that I make good grades which would not happen in accounting. All of these people will be assets to the world. (And FWIW, a degree in classical languages takes a lot more work and basic smarts than one in, oh, business management would, but guess which graduate gets interviewed first.)

        • Murc

          She ended up with a degree in German, which she always loved and for which she had an aptitude but which her parents thought was a complete waste of time.

          … why?

          I mean, I understand parents who are all “get a degree you can make a living at.” They’re not trying to crush their kids dreams, they’re trying to prevent a scenario where the kid is 30, is making 20k a year in a dead-end job, and bitterly cursing their Liberal Arts degree.

          But… German? That makes you bilingual in a language spoken by a country with a tradition of cross-cultural engineering excellence and and an export-focused economy. You can make a decent living as a translator with that if nothing else.

          • Karen24

            Her parents were a special kind of crazy, and for some reason thought if she went to Europe often unexplained Bad Things would happen.

            • BiloSagdiyev

              Sex-for-pleasure in France? That was my Anglo-uptight side of the family’s concern.

              Were they Jewish? That’s a differnet concern/paranoia. (Don’t… mention… the war!)

              • efc

                My jewish mother (who was born way after the war and her parents were not involved in the war other than as soldier/nurse for the armed forces of the western country in which they lived) wouldn’t let my brothers and I take german in high school.

              • Karen24

                Very much not Jewish. Mostly concerned that she would discover sex and drugs, which I could have told them after a year of living with her was no longer a problem.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            I mean, I understand parents who are all “get a degree you can make a living at.” They’re not trying to crush their kids dreams, they’re trying to prevent a scenario where the kid is 30, is making 20k a year in a dead-end job, and bitterly cursing their Liberal Arts degree.

            Ahem. I can see both sides of that one, having lived it. Oops.

          • lunaticllama

            I’m less than 10 years out with a liberal arts degree from a small New England liberal arts school. None of my friends majored in a STEM field and all of us were able to quickly find jobs in a variety of private sector business roles. Some people still understand that if you get good grades majoring in history or political science, you can probably churn out good analysis papers for a company or consultancy or pick it up pretty quickly.

            • Philip

              It’s getting less and less true, though. I have friends from “elite” SLACs who can’t find jobs, or who gave up and used a STEM minor to get a job in tech after a year+ of not being able to find a job with their majors.

            • Honoré De Ballsack

              To do a bit of cutting and pasting:

              Some people still understand that if you get good grades majoring in history or political science with a liberal arts degree from a small New England liberal arts school,you can probably churn out good analysis papers.

              With a liberal arts degree from a large Middle American state university–not so much.

            • Rob in CT

              I’m closing in on 20 years out from graduation from a small New England liberal arts school and have done well for myself as well, but I was pretty lucky in that:

              a) I graduated during a boom; and b) I found a niche job that really rewards my particular skill set and personality.

              I have no idea how History majors graduating from the same institution today are doing.

        • JL

          How in the world was majoring in COBOL a thing? That would be like a budding mechanical engineer majoring in using oh, a lathe, or AutoCAD. Or a budding historian majoring in secondary sources. Except that mechEs still use lathes and AutoCAD and historians still use secondary sources.

          • Karen24

            It was 1981.

            • JustRuss

              I started college in 1980 as a CS major. COBOL was certainly part of the deal, but I never heard of a COBOL major. Not saying it didn’t exist, somewhere, but it wasn’t common.

              • Philip

                There’s still an awful lot of programs where you basically major in Java.

                • Colin Day

                  From what I’ve heard about programming, they should be majoring in java.

                • Schadenboner

                  There are some people who, when presented with a programming problem, will start writing in Java.

                  Now you have two problems!

                • Philip

                  Surely now you have an AbstractProblemFactory()

          • Honoré De Ballsack

            That would be like a budding mechanical engineer majoring in using…AutoCAD.

            At least up until the late 1980s, most four-year colleges that offered a more-vocational track (I don’t know what the formal description is…they tend to begin with “XYZ State University” rather than “University of XYZ.”) Anyway, most of those places DID offer a four-year major in Drafting. (Bear in mind that it took until about 1992-93 before it became obvious that CAD was going to quickly wipe out old-school T-square and drawing-board drafting, rather than gradually supplanting it.)

            The fact that Drafting (or COBOL) as a major doesn’t exist anymore speaks volumes, I think, about the changed nature of the job market in America.

            • delazeur

              I don’t know what the formal description is…they tend to begin with “XYZ State University” rather than “University of XYZ.”

              It bugs me that there isn’t a common term for this distinction, because (barring a few exceptions) it is fairly common and obvious but difficult to describe.

              Bear in mind that it took until about 1992-93 before it became obvious that CAD was going to quickly wipe out old-school T-square and drawing-board drafting, rather than gradually supplanting it.

              I’ve heard of a few firms with anal record-keeping policies that continue to employ draftsmen to update their old drawings. Always thought it was kinda funny. Also always bothered by the term “draftsman.”

              • Honoré De Ballsack

                …few firms with anal record-keeping policies…

                If this weren’t such a high-toned blog, I’d make a joke here about my cousin the proctologist.

              • it is easier to pronounce than the more inclusive terms “draftsentity”.

              • Schadenboner

                A&Ms?

              • Pseudonym

                Well, women still aren’t eligible for the draft anyways.

            • Linnaeus

              I don’t know what the formal description is…they tend to begin with “XYZ State University” rather than “University of XYZ.”

              IME, the former tend to be land-grant universities, and they teach “practical” subjects as a condition of their land grants.

              • delazeur

                It’s definitely true that more land-grant universities are names “XYZ State” than “U of XYZ”, but they are more evenly distributed than I expected (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_land-grant_universities). Notable stand-outs: MIT, Berkeley, and Purdue are all land-grant universities. I wonder if it’s more that “practical” schools retain their association with the land-grant acts, rather than land-grant universities following a more practical route.

                • Ruviana

                  In California it was land-grants (UC) vs. teachers’ colleges/normal schools (CSU).

          • sharculese

            Hey I majored in lathes and AutoCAD!

            (I was scenic carpentry major)

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          Guess which graduate gets interviewed first…

          Well, given that an ever-increasing number of employers use software filters to sort and discard resumes, and those software filters can sort and reject by major, perhaps the question should be phrased as “Guess which graduate gets an interview at all?”

          • Karen24

            Good point. FWIW, I knew a dozen or so Classics majors and all of them were intimidatingly sharp.

      • Mudge

        Ahh..helicopter parents..those phone calls after giving their precious a “C”

        • Murc

          I’ll be honest. I have a lot of sympathy for those parents. They’re trying to work the system they’ve been presented with as best they can.

          • CHD

            No, I think the current system empowers them to do what they always would have liked to do.
            Also,most of them aren’t helicopter parents, just hovering nearby. They’re snowplow parents, actively clearing all obstacles from in fron of little Timmy.

            • Philip

              Apache attack chopper parents, maybe.

        • TribalistMeathead

          This is nothing new. Twenty years ago, we were rolling out wired Internet connections in dorm rooms, and we had parents of students calling on their behalf, trying to get them ahead in line, trying to get their work orders prioritized, etc.

      • trollhattan

        I’ll challenge those mindlessly pushing all-tech all the time to work for awhile in the soul-crushing environment that is a big engineering firm. Revel in the joys of “Be billable or pack your desk.” Treasure a management team composed of engineers promoted out of their competence zone because that’s how they get bonuses and raises. Be in awe of engineers not hiring geologists, chemists and other scientists because they took a couple of classes in collage. Scratch your head when corporate cuts benefits and demands layoffs because quarterly earnings are soft, never mind your office has a $25 million backlog.

        Yup, STEM can be awesome.

        • But it’s too hard for a non-Balkan to pronounce “STM”!

          • trollhattan

            Heh, well, we can always resurrect Operation Vowel Drop.

    • nacorwin

      I agree with everything AcademicLurker says. I would add that most of my colleagues in my math department think that students should get a general education and that it is a negative that education is thought of as job training.

      • bernard

        Would it be fair to say that many in the math department, and maybe the physical sciences, are culturally closer to humanities faculty than to engineering in terms of career orientation?

        “STEM” covers a lot of territory.

        • Truth be told, math is in STEM for the cool acronym much more than any desire for theoretical mathematics from administrators or others promoting this.

          • MacK

            These days the line between math, computer science – physics, chemistry, biochemistry if increasingly fuzzy.

            • Philip

              +1. The physical sciences (including big swathes of biology) are heavily computational. There are a lot of chemists and physicists who do more programming than anything else. Computational linguistics is a significant fraction of the whole linguistics field now. CS (as opposed to programming or software engineering) is really just “mathematical formalisms you can easily run on a computer.” And e.g. machine learning is really just taking more traditional bits of mathematics and applying them to CS.

              • sonamib

                There are a lot of chemists and physicists who do more programming than anything else.

                I resemble that remark! Though, to be fair, we do need to understand the science to know wtf we’re even doing.

        • delazeur

          Math and physics are absolutely culturally closer to the humanities than to engineering, and mathematicians and physicists are often the first to admit it.

          • MacK

            Well, maybe. In the sciences there is a certain amount of snobbery

            Mathematicians look down on physicists, theoretical physicists look down on experimentalists, physicists look down on chemists, chemists look down on biologists, scientists look down on engineers, everyone looks down on geologists. Curiously, income for STEM tends to work the other way around, geologists make more than engineers, engineers usually more than scientists, biochemists more than mere chemists, chemists more than physicists, experimentalists more than theoreticians and everyone seems to make more than the pure-maths people.

            For the most part STEM people despise a lot of philosophers, mainly because they think the philosophers pretend to understand science and partly because they feel condescended to.

            • delazeur

              That’s generally true, although I think this is a hierarchy that undergrads care about more than anyone else. Some people hold onto it as they grow older, most probably don’t. I think you’ve got the reason STEM people don’t like philosophers spot-on though.

              Am I correct in assuming that geologist salaries are high primarily because of their work in oil & gas?

              • MacK

                Yup, yup

              • Linnaeus

                Anecdote, I know, but an ex-girlfriend of mine studied geology and told me that oil & gas companies were the most prominent recruiters at job fairs, professional meetings, etc.

            • Ruviana
            • twbb

              “Curiously, income for STEM tends to work the other way around”

              Except for biologists, who tend to be at the bottom of both the prestige and income ladder.

    • JL

      As a computer science PhD student, cosign.

      As Erik mentions, there is the factor that I don’t want people to be stuck in fields they hate because their parents forced them (something I’ve seen on the TAing side, but also something I saw a lot on the undergrad side at MIT, even and perhaps especially within the supposedly practical fields, for instance the budding physicist whose father tried to force him to major in business). It’s more than that, though. I don’t think the STEM fields and the HASS (humanities, arts, and social sciences) fields should be at odds. They intersect, they’re important to each other and have the ability to enrich each other and the people who study them. I want the STEM majors to know something about, say, the history of scientific racism and why it’s a problem, and I want the HASS majors to know enough STEM to make sense of various kinds of science and tech policy like climate policy or proposed Internet regulations (there are obviously other reasons for people to know something about each other’s fields, I just needed a couple of quick examples). I want everybody to have some exposure to different areas of inquiry and ways of thinking about your area of inquiry.

      • Origami Isopod

        don’t think the STEM fields and the HASS (humanities, arts, and social sciences) fields should be at odds. They intersect, they’re important to each other and have the ability to enrich each other and the people who study them.

        This, this, this. It’s one of the most ridiculous binaries imaginable. Both are necessary bodies of knowledge, and they interconnect in all sorts of ways. STEM supremacists are ignorant, but so are HASS supremacists.

        • but so are HASS supremacists.

          Yes, but I don’t think very many of these people actually exist.

          • Origami Isopod

            That’s true.

          • Hang out in some philosophy departments :)

          • delazeur

            I think 90% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 are supremacists about whatever they happen to be interested in.

          • Leon Wieseltier?

        • Schadenboner

          I call them avocados.

      • Karen24

        I could not agree more. Simply being familiar with the most basic vocabulary in a field improves a person’s ability to analyze claims related to that field. Knowing what a primary source is in history, knowing what “valence” means in chemistry or even just that valences are a thing with chemicals, have helped me at different points in analyzing litigation evidence, even if only by making me think I needed to ask an expert witness a particular question. Understanding claims about global warming is impossible without knowing something about the chemical properties of CO2 and methane. Understanding claims about the necessity of the Voting Rights Act can’t be done without knowing about literacy tests and Jim Crow laws.

        • delazeur

          Understanding claims about global warming is impossible without knowing something about the chemical properties of CO2 and methane.

          My biggest pet peeve is environmental activists who don’t understand the science of the issues. I honestly think it has significantly set back the green movement, because these activists are unable to convince people who are capable of understanding the science but have otherwise moderate or conservative inclination.

      • MacK

        As a former STEM (which I enjoyed) and law, which I also enjoy, I have seen this. Not so much in STEM (where classmates have ended up doing all sorts of things, Film Director, convicted terrorist bomb-maker, etc.) but in the law.

        It has always seemed to me that a lot of law students and lawyers went to law school à défaut de mieux, because it offered a nice middle class job, with alleged job security. They then discovered that their idea of what the law consisted of was very far from the truth, but stayed in the profession to become the spittle spurting screamers that make junior lawyers lives miserable, or duck out to become law professors teaching anything but the law itself.

        Strangely enough, I have found those who had lawyers in the family, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – tended to be happier lawyers. I think it was because few were pushed into the law and had a good idea of what they were in fact getting into.

        One thing that, when I was still in University that put me off Liberal Arts was meeting old friends of my parents who were visiting when attending an MLA conference – a couple handed me their papers, which I read and found to be just complete piffle, tendentious nonsense. A few years later I read Sokal’s Joke and the self important MLA denunciations with more than a little amusement.

        • Linnaeus

          I have to say that as a historian of science and technology, I have some mixed feelings about the Sokal hoax, or, more precisely, its aftermath.

          • MacK

            I wonder about it – but Sokal was aiming at an open goal, and the response of the MLA types was really quite precious.

            I did find it quite remarkable (I think I was still an undergrad) that a journal could not see that it was satire on a first read, or at least meaningless drivel.

            • Linnaeus

              Yeah, I don’t blame Sokal – it was an open goal and the Social Text editors really should have been able to see the essay for what it was. Or at least they should have asked someone else about it.

          • AcademicLurker

            I considered going to graduate school in English before ultimately going for biophysics instead, and read quite a bit of “theory” back in the day. So I was kind of the perfect audience for the Sokal thing when it blew up.

            While the immediate aftermath involved a lot of pointless shouting and juvenile name-calling, some interesting writing did eventually result.

            • MacK

              Part of it was the curious social structures and assumptions that the response revealed. It turned out that as a group the social text editors and contributors exhibited such dynamics as to be worth studying. Must have been annoying to be at the wrong end of their own style of analysis.

              • Linnaeus

                The downside was a lot of strawmanning and sweeping generalizations made by people claiming to be doing analyses of the thought of folks like the Social Text editors. Sokal himself wrote an essay the main point of which was, “You know, folks, that wasn’t what I really set out to do.”

          • twbb

            As someone whose work involves a lot of STS, the most interesting thing about the Sokal hoax was some of the criticism of him that came from the STEM side.

        • The Lorax

          Many of us in philosophy cheered when the Hoax occurred. But, I suppose not surprisingly, it got ugly afterwards. And nothing has changed in the humanities (witness the top New Yorker article at this moment).

          • twbb

            No offense, but after following some of the philosophy blogs, and seeing how analytic philosophy academics insist that Scientists Are Doing Everything Wrong and Need to Listen to Philosophers, that side of the analytic/continental divide isn’t TOO much better when it comes to science.

            • Were there philosophers associated with Social Text and the people who defended it? Sokal refers to Derrida, but my understanding (from far afar) was that they were humanities professors and social scientists doing what was then known as “theory,” which has been described (probably by Rorty) as non-philosophers using philosophical texts in non-philosophical ways.

              In retrospect, typing this, I wonder if this was near the beginning of the end for “theory” as such.

              eta: And it probably isn’t unfair to suspect that some people in humanities and parrts of the social sciences feel the same about analytical philosophy as they do about science (which if Rorty’s right isn’t unfair, since he describes the self-understanding of that philosophy as actually a part of science–which many scientists wouldn’t agree with, as noted above).

              • twbb

                I think Sokal’s article was a useful corrective, but he was really attacking a sort of extremist positions on relativism that even at the time did not represent a majority of the field.

                I think some of it may be different cultures between more theoretical humanities and social sciences, and the natural sciences; a lot of the theorists held in distaste by scientists and analytic philosophers don’t manage their careers in the same ways. Rather than carefully develop their work and parcel it out under obsessive control, they like to throw out a torrent of ideas and see what sticks, with the understanding that they might change their mind later (see, e.g., a lot of the structuralists become post-structuralists). It’s not really a problem if you keep that in mind; I find Foucault’s work on power and discourse extremely enlightening, even though I disagree with a good chunk of it and find his historical analyses often unconvincing. But I don’t have to accept it all to use it.

                As for the analytic philosophers, their demarcation of philosophy and “critical thinking” tends to be self-reinforcing; “our way is the best way, and yours is less efficacious because it’s not our way,” etc.. Some of the criticisms of physics from the analytical philosophy side have seemed fairly silly to me, and based on really erroneous assumptions about many scientists’ epistemic starting points.

      • GFW

        I had a hard time finding a place to fit this in with other comments, but as a concurrence with JL seems to work.

        1. What JL said about STEM and HASS enriching each other.
        2. Much depends on the individual. I focused on science and math as much as possible as early as possible (My grade 12 classes were 3 physical sciences, 3 math classes, English & Comp Sci.) But I’ve always been politically involved/interested and taken interest in some HASS fields, particularly psychology, poli sci, sociology, even some pure philosophy. I just didn’t want to work in those fields or be *graded* on them.
        3. A scientific education can have significant political implications. The big obvious example is climate science. I didn’t study climate science formally, but I can evaluate the overall level of knowledge in the field, and I can say that decarbonizing the economy should be our number one political goal.
        4. I think what we really ought to have is some sort of “how to be a citizen” course (Don’t call it “Critical Thinking”) that winds its way through all of high school. It would have some basic science or more like history of science to get across the scientific method, and a general sense of what constitutes believable evidence. It would have History – particularly forms of government, relations between capital and labor, etc. And it would have an area of math that is often ignored – Statistics. The stats would not involve students doing heavy computation. It would be more of an intro to statistical ideas and frankly, “how people lie with stats”. That’s not an exhaustive list of topics, but it’s a decent start.

        • sonamib

          I just didn’t want to work in those fields or be *graded* on them.

          Amen.

    • NeonTrotsky

      I have still yet to see a good argument that the big push behind STEM is anything more than a thinly veiled attempt by companies wanting to lower the labor cost of engineers.

    • The Lorax

      Yes. And more and more the administrators are True Believers in the bullshit coming out of Ed schools and business schools and TED talks, and they can’t figure out why academics aren’t excited to implement their ideas.

  • Joshua

    The idea that anyone and everyone can and should be an engineer is foolish. Not everyone can handle the workload, not everyone has a brain wired for it, not everyone likes it. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just how it is. I saw a lot of people flunk out of engineering programs in college. All things considered, a person is better off studying something they are good at and like than something they are poor at.

    The idea of “STEM” is by itself foolish. The difference in course of study between, say, a biology major and a math major is as big a difference as a math major and an English major. The future job prospects are different, the career paths are different.

    I think that the people pushing this just want to destroy the labor markets with a flood of graduates. Maybe they can use this to push for more H1Bs too.

    • Linnaeus

      Sometimes I think STEM should be written as sTEm, because the TE part is what the most vigorous STEM “promoters” are really talking about.

      • delazeur

        Yeah, very few people are interested in actually supporting basic research.

  • yet_another_lawyer

    Danielle Allen has a long essay on the attack on civic education by proponents of vocational education who think STEM fields are the only legitimate fields. There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education.

    Is there in fact a pro-“STEM education only” movement? If so, who are they specifically? The underlying litigation in the article isn’t about whether things other than STEM should be stopped, just how much civics education New York is required to provide. Similarly, a lot of people would like to see public policy reworked such that someone doesn’t “need” a college degree for a middle class life, but that’s entirely different from suggesting the liberal arts degree should be abolished. There should be such a thing as a liberal arts degree, but you shouldn’t need a college degree to be a receptionist or admin assistant.

    • Murc

      Is there in fact a pro-“STEM education only” movement?

      Yes.

      If so, who are they specifically?

      I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that their vanguard are the people you see at every school board meeting demanding that more money be spent on preparing primary and secondary students to be scientists and engineers, and if that means the theater and music and language courses need to be gutted, well, them’s the breaks.

      • State legislatures tend to go on about that too.

      • Karen24

        One of the very tiny advantages the public schools have in Texas is for music programs. These get lots of cash because football games require half-time shows, and those need bands and drill teams. Because the Lege appropriates boatloads of money for “music education,” the choirs and orchestras get to skim a good bit from that pile, even though the Lege clearly means it only for drum lines and tubas.

    • NewishLawyer

      Yes.

      Politicians and wonks because STEM is about jobs and they are concerned about job-creation and the economy. STEM is the new cure-all for the middle class. I’ve noticed that coding has replaced law school as the new things liberal arts grads do to get into the middle class.

      • I thought all the coding jobs were taken up by ex-coal miners going through job retraining programs.

        • A reader in my department is an ex-coal miner :)

          A prof is an ex-dressmaker (went through an apprenticeship and everything!).

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Positing that there is a shortage of American STEM college graduates is necessary for providing a rationale for maintaining (and arguing to increase) the H1B system – and let us not forget that roughly half of H1B visas each year go to so-called “tech outsourcing companies” like Infosys, Cognizant, iGate, and so forth. I think you will find many common sources between the “everyone needs to study STEM” and “I need more H1B workers” pronouncements… As in most things in modern corporate America, it is all about creating an overabundance of labor so as to keep downward pressure on wages.

    Meanwhile, “The U.S. Census Bureau reported today that 74 percent of those who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are not employed in STEM occupations.”

    • Positing that there is a shortage of American STEM college graduates is necessary for providing a rationale for maintaining (and arguing to increase) the H1B system

      Or just overproduction to drive down wages.

      In general, when a STEM field is perceived as having very high employability, people flock to it. CS (at least in the US) goes through regular boom/bust cycles in the number of majors based on whether tech is hot at the moment. So a major IPO can cause a notable uptick.

      • DrDick

        A bit of both, I would wager.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Yep; I edited my comment to explicitly mention the “labor oversupply –> downward pressure on wages” machination.

        Here’s a great table of the growth/decline of various college majors since the early 1970’s per NCES. Erik is spot on: virtually all humanities and social science majors are either declining or stagnant even as the number of college graduates soared. The big growth majors are business, various STEM disciplines, and various vocational majors like fitness studies, nursing, and law enforcement.

        • NewishLawyer

          I would put fitness studies in a very different field than nursing.

    • NewishLawyer

      Again STEM is a misnomer. Politicians should just say Technology and Engineering. That would be much clearer. No politician wants a marine biology major or a astronomer. They want an engineer that can create the hottest new unicorn or app or people that can work for such things.

      A person I know from law school was a chemistry major as an undergrad and then she got a job at a pharma company. She decided to go to law school because she did not want to do the PhD. She know works at a firm working with science clients.

      • UserGoogol

        Well, it’s not so much a misnomer as an asymmetric focus. Science and mathematics classes are key prerequisite to technology and engineering majors. Sometimes this is inflated, but you do need to have a solid foundation of mathematics beyond high school algebra to be an engineer. So even if technology and engineering is what they ultimately care about, they can’t exactly leave science and mathematics departments to rot. But the people who actually major in math are tangential to the main project.

        • NewishLawyer

          Fair point. Asymmetric focus is a better way to phrase it.

          Math as an actual major is only good if you are going to become a quant at a hedge fund.

        • wjts

          So even if technology and engineering is what they ultimately care about, they can’t exactly leave science and mathematics departments to rot.

          They can. “They” may care about the 100- and 200-level classes (or equivalent) that future laboratory scut-workers will need for their jobs at DOW or a biotech company, but “they” have a strong prejudice against most everything above that level in the S end – remember Bobby Jindal’s “har har volcano monitoring” and John McCain’s “har har polar bear DNA” quips?

    • Philip

      As people noted above, “STEM” covers a lot of things that aren’t really what people mean when they say it. But also, from watching people I know in tech a few years above me…an awful lot of people bounce off the field, hard. People who are smart and did great in undergrad start working in the industry and realize that, unless you’re exactly the right kind of person, it’s a miserable, mind-numbing meat grinder. So part of the STEM-graduates-in-other-fields phenomenon is also just people quitting the tech industry because they realize they hate it.

  • Marc

    Science professors are, in general, intellectually curious, and I know none who think that educating people only in STEM fields is a good idea. It’s the sort of thing that appeals to a certain cohort of people outside of academe – ones who may have graduated with a technical background, interact with people from similar backgrounds, and who think that everyone else should be just like them.

    • Crusty

      It also perhaps appeals to people who want employees who can do certain work and will shut the fuck up about anything else.

      • CHD

        … while failing to recognize that they could do the work better with an even slightly broader education.

  • MacK

    There is a cynical reason to support “arts” education, which is that, at least at universities it heavily subsidises STEM. To put it in simple terms, STEM students typically cost (and I remember being give the numbers) about 5 times what arts students cost. Certainly going back to when I was in University (in Europe) that was easy to understand – our first day in chemistry (our course had you tripling physics/chemistry/math, we were taken to a lab and give keys to the cabinets at our benches, that each contained what in today’s money would be $3-6,000 worth of glassware, a good bit of which would be broken by some of the more clumsy of my classmates (I did not break any, but there was one young woman in the class who came to be known as the “laboratory hazard” who could usually be located by the crashing sounds and the cordon sanitaire that existed around her bench; she still managed to gas me twice (bromine) and half blind me for 6 weeks on top (dirty spatula contaminating supplies – thud.) Some was also used, inevitably, to set up an illicit still.) We had 37 scheduled hours a week, two large labs, lab techs, access to mini-computers, etc., two dedicated libraries. That was seriously expensive.

    The arts students had a café they shared with us, 9-18 hours a week of classes with 40-100 in them in many (we only saw 50 in one math course we shared with the engineers) in a building that housed students at a density vastly exceeding the physics, chemistry and maths departments. As far as I know, it is still the case that STEM students pay the same tuition as liberal arts students (or “arts”) as they are known, which means that they are still subsidising STEM.

    So to put it in simple terms, anyone demanding that only STEM be taught better consider how to pay for it, because STEM is seriously expensive to teach, while liberal arts are very cheap by comparison. That is the main reason that so many schools like Georgetown have killed their STEM programs and gone all liberal arts – cost.

    • There is a cynical reason to support “arts” education, which is that, at least at universities it heavily subsidises STEM.

      Yep. And teaching subsidises research.

      EVERYTHING I WAS LED TO BELIEVE AS A KID IS WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!

      (grrr)

    • Marc

      Lab sciences are expensive, but I doubt that math majors are more expensive than English majors.

      The economics of universities are odd. The class tuition pays a lot of the expenses – but, of course, students take the classes that they have to take. So departments with a lot of required classes, like math or English or History, end up doing a lot of teaching and getting a lot of credits.

      I think that it’s probably more accurate to say that large introductory classes, largely required for graduation, pay for the much smaller classes designed for majors pretty much across the board. The fact that the former are mostly in the humanities is really a side issue.

      • I doubt that math majors are more expensive than English majors

        Math majors very likely are. But students taking service courses (for sciences and engineering) taught by math department staff more than make up for that.

        • wjts

          An Old Joke:

          A math professor says, “We must be the cheapest department on campus. All we really need are pencils, erasers, and paper.”

          A philosophy professor says, “We don’t need erasers.”

      • delazeur

        I went to a public school in a state that publishes the salary of every single state employee, so a bit of searching could get you your professors’ salaries. My pure math and science professors generally made about twice as much as my liberal arts professors (and my engineering professors made twice again as much).

        • twbb

          Was that base salary or did it include self-funding? A lot of STEM faculty basically pay themselves out of funding grants, which is not as much as an option for liberal arts professors.

    • delazeur

      There is a movement in the U.S. to charge differential tuition based on major. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but it doesn’t look like a strong movement either way.

    • Bill Murray

      at at least some schools, students also pay extra fees when you are taking laboratory classes. Further engineering students take more hours total. Thus, engineering students in my state pay about $10,000 more than a humanities/social sciences major over the course of their degrees

  • Crusty

    This isn’t exactly on point, but I used to think that liberal arts education was important because it taught you some thinking skills and a way to think. I still think it is important, but frankly, I’ve come to think that its important because you should know stuff. Forget being able to think, your head should not be empty about the world you live in and its history.

    • No Longer Middle Aged Man

      Agree. The STEM drive is real but the OP exaggerates. Even worse though is the idea that studying Liberal Arts subjects should be for civic virtue.

      Why deride the STEM drive for being too functionalist (job/career) in attitude, then make a comparable argument for Liberal Arts (functionalist in the citizen criterion)?

      How about the people who just want to study something because they find it valuable for its own sake, not because it will them a better citizen?

      • Crusty

        No, I think the better citizen stuff is important, and I think you’ll be a better citizen not just if you know “how to think” but it yo know some stuff. If your head is empty, you might end up voting for Donald Trump.

  • Denverite

    High SAT verbal scores correlate with increased likelihood of political participation, while high SAT math scores correlate with decreased likelihood of participation.

    How is this remotely possible given the correlation between high math and verbal SAT scores? Unless they’re looking at people who scored disproportionately high on their math vis-a-vis their verbal, in which case I reaaaaalllly hope they controlled for foreign test takers.

    • Karen24

      Probably disproportionate scores. I got 790 verbal and 610 math back in 1980 on my SAT’s, and a perfect verbal and very much not perfect math score on the PSAT. I presume that’s the kind of score that correlates with high political participation. (And reading this makes me wonder what kind of weirdo remembers her SAT’s after 35 years, but there it is. I’m entirely too conceited to edit and remove that bit.)

      And yes, if they didn’t control for English proficiency — perhaps by setting a minimum verbal score for consideration — then the stats are not very useful.

      • Denverite

        Don’t be embarrassed. I remember my PSAT (80M/72V), SAT (770M/660V), and LSAT (176), all from the early-to-mid 90s.

        Oddly, I don’t remember my college GPA. I think it was in the high 3.5s. (I had multiple majors, including a couple of STEM ones that dragged down my grades.)

        • Davis X. Machina

          A hundred-point gap? A trifle.

          I pulled 760V/470M — a discrepancy tied, but not equaled, at my HS alma mater for 21 years.

          • GFW

            > a discrepancy tied, but not equaled

            Ok, I believe the 470 now :-)

            • Davis X. Machina

              The reverse — ca. 300 points math over verbal — was commonplace, apparently.

        • wjts

          I remember my SAT (750/700) and GRE scores (790/770), but not my PSATs.

      • Rob in CT

        Somewhat amusingly, I scored higher on the math than the verbal when I took the SAT (by only 50 points, but…). You’d think that I was therefore geared toward math, but I’m really not. I’m good at basic math, but once it gets sufficiently abstract I’m DONE. I looked good on the SAT b/c it tests for mostly basic stuff.

        My wife, the compsci/math double-major and all-around amazing person, is the opposite wrt math – I’m better at doing basic stuff in my head on the fly, but she can handle the abstract/complex stuff that just melts my brain.

        ETA: and I, too, remember my SAT scores. 670V/720M. I don’t recall the exact PSAT scores, but I do recall that I took them twice and the scores rose: 1st PSAT -> 2nd PSAT -> SAT.

      • Linnaeus

        Your SAT scores pretty closely matched mine.

    • Marc

      I have a sinking feeling that their entire effect could be explained by what you’re describing.

    • sharculese

      It happens more often than you think. Mostly students who get the basics of verbal (which hasn’t been verbal in 20 years, fyi, it’s critical reading/writing now) but can’t wrap their heads around the conceptual stuff on the math section.

      ACT scores, which is what all of the are taking now anyway, can get even wonkier – you get weird results where a kid is really good in science and then the next best result is reading, because those are the strategically focused section, whereas math and English are more knowledge-based.

    • elm

      I haven’t read the research, but I know the researcher. She’s well trained in quantitative methods and I would be very surprised if she didn’t control for a whole host of different things. And while it’s true that verbal and math scores are highly correlated, they’re not perfectly correlated. That the part of the scores that don’t correlate with each other is associated with differences in political participation is very interesting, in part because of how correlated the scores actually tend to be.

      • elm

        I’ve now skimmed the research. Hillygus doesn’t control for foreign born, but does restrict the sample only to U.S. Citizens who have graduated from college, which should mitigate the concerns raised.

        • Denverite

          Yes. My big concern is that a lot of the high math/low verbal test takers were ESL people. Which still might be the case, but if they’re US citizens, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be interested in participating in US politics (as compared to non-citizens).

    • delazeur

      Your point about foreign test-takers is well taken, but it is mathematically possible to have both correlation between math and verbal SAT scores, and independent correlation between each of those scores and political participation.

      Say 80% of people who score high on the math SAT also score high on the verbal SAT. If everyone who scores high on the verbal SAT votes, and everyone who scores high on the math but not the verbal doesn’t vote, we would see a correlation between high math SAT scores and slightly lower political participation, even though the high math SAT score is also correlated with a high verbal SAT score (which is itself correlated with slightly higher political participation). This explanation is at least plausible because what we see in the actual data is high political participation for both high-scoring groups, but slightly lower (still high) participation for the high math score group.

      Not sure if that explanation is very clear…

    • GFW

      Somewhat similarly, I’m wondering about

      Data from the Department of Education reveal that, among 2008 college graduates, 92.8 percent of humanities majors have voted at least once since finishing school. Among STEM majors, that number is 83.5 percent.

      That really disturbs me (as a STEM type who votes) but I’m wondering if they fully controlled for citizenship. Way more STEM students are non-citizens and if they didn’t have complete information on which ones were not, then they’d have more spurious cases of STEM grads seemingly not interested in voting.

    • so-in-so

      For that matter, could it simply be that the mindset that does really well in math is less likely to be active politically, while the more verbal people tend toward interest in the political? Correlation instead of causation?

  • kmannkoopa

    As alluded to by commenters above, the whole STEM debate is debating the symptom, not the underlying problem is determining the purpose of higher education is in our society.

    If college is for job preparation, then the emphasis on STEM is likely correct, as this is where the jobs are. If the purpose is the noble pursuit of knowledge, then a more balanced approach is needed.

    I’ll go further and argue that we did decide as a society that college is for job preparation. By making college unaffordable and requiring loans to pay off, we decided that college is for giving you the skills to get a job that can pay off the college loans you took out.

    As to the public involvement, I see a lot of STEM folks in my civic engagement. But perhaps my worldview is skewed as I live by choice in one of the few middle class neighborhoods in the urban core of a rustbelt city (failing schools, high crime, etc.) and associate with other people who made the same choice.

  • These sorts of discussions typically take me back to a quote from Robertson Davies’s book Fifth Business:

    Despite these afternoon misgivings and self-reproaches I clung to my notion, ill defined though it was, that a serious study of any important body of human knowledge, or theory, or belief, if undertaken with a critical but not a cruel mind, would in the end yield some secret, some valuable permanent insight, into the nature of life and the true end of man.

    The only thing for me to do was to keep on keeping on, to have faith in my whim, and remember that for me, as for the saints, illumination when it came would probably come from some unexpected source.

    • DrDick

      Nice! I would also endorse that.

  • NewishLawyer

    I am a firm supporter of the liberal arts and humanities. When I applied to undergrad, the overwhelming number of my applications were to small liberal arts colleges over universities. I studied drama and received a Masters in theatre directing.

    But when I was in my Masters, I realized the writing was on the wall but could not bring myself to drop out. For their credit or not, my parents also encouraged me to complete my Masters because I was able to do it without student loans (very lucky and rare of me) and they probably realized that I would be depressed in a “what could have been” sort of way without my masters. Then I went to law school in 2008, graduated in 2011, and the last few years have been a struggle to start a career. All things and all I am one of the lucky ones career wise based on some stories I have heard. Not among the best but not among the worst. Since my twenties was spent doing the arts, I don’t really have a business background to fall back on so getting out of law is hard. Some of my friends are working in banks and/or academic institutions doing contract management stuff and they like it a lot. I’ve never been able to get these jobs.

    I don’t regret my studies or trying for art but at the same time I admit that it is a bit depressing to see all my friends hitting various life milestones like buying property, starting families, career advancement, cool vacations, etc. Those things seem rather far way if not perpetually far away at times. I intellectually know that things can change quickly but on a day to day emotional level it is hard to keep that feeling in mind.

    What I have been thinking about over the past few years is what kind of wealth is needed to study the arts and humanities without fear of poverty and stagnation. The amount seems to be very high. Much higher than my very comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. This wealth level can exist at a societal and individual level. The United States is wealthy enough to produce a lot of kids who are interested in the arts and humanities but we are not wealthy enough to provide very arts and humanities grad with a stable outcome in their field of study.

    Developing countries are a different kettle of fish. The emphasis on practical study is to raise people from poverty. Even the middle classes in developing countries tend to get relentlessly practical educations because the nation is still poor overall. My girlfriend is from Singapore. She grew up upper-middle class but her parents grew up really poor in the period following WWII. They have seen amazing gains in their standards of living. Lee Kwan Yew’s methods for doing this were usually not democratic but they did work and the education system in Singapore seems designed to produce people who can be economically viable. A lot of my girlfriend’s friends are expats from Singapore and surrounding countries. They grew up middle class or above and attended university and grad school in the U.S. They also received educations that can be described as STEM, STEM, or more STEM because that is how you get competitive. Not through studying literature and working as a bartender while writing on the side.

    I still think C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures observation applies to the STEM v. Liberal Arts divide. A lot of people seem absolutely amazed that theatre is something you can study in undergrad. Or they are amazed that my parents let me study theatre instead of shoe-horning me into an accounting, business, or STEM major.

    Americans have always had a practical streak when it comes to education and studying the liberal arts is very impractical. People who grow up in boom times might see it as viable but after a recession the dialogue changes to jobs, jobs, and jobs.

    So I wonder what I would do differently if I could go back and tell my 18 year old self what would happen if I studied theatre. Or what I will tell my kids if they want to study the arts.

    • I think this is a generalization. After WWII there was a big need for teachers. There was a greater need for middle managers than the previous generation of managers could fill with their sons. There was a wish for those managers to be “polished” in a way liberal arts colleges tended to produce.

      At other times, like under the British Empire, the liberal arts often led to a career in government service. There were probably more clergy then than now, too.

      Now, many professions are professionalized or turned into science, where they might have taken a “gentleman’s” education in the past.

      Eta Also, going farther back in the U.S., college really was something that had no connection to professional life. If a man went to college, he might still run the family business. But he’d meet a better class people and have higher values.

      • LeeEsq

        That depends on what sort of college a person went to. Even though fewer people went to college in the past than they did now, the United States always had more people going to college than other wealthy countries. If you went to a state school than chances are you were studying something practical rather than the humanities. I also think that we need to remember that many of the elite colleges were finishing schools in all but name.

        • I think we may be talking about different timeframes and maybe geographical areas.

    • DAS

      I still think C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures observation applies to the STEM v. Liberal Arts divide.

      Actually within academia, in my experience, the key way the two cultures divide plays out is in to what degree (pardon the pun) you are preparing the majority of your students for a career in your field (or a related field) vs. giving them a solid liberal arts education. If you are an English professor, for example, you know that the majority of your students are not going to become literary critics or professional novelists. OTOH, if you are teaching an upper division biology course, you know that, while many of your students are hoping to become physicians or dentists (in which case they will need to know exactly what you are teaching them in the lecture component of your course), the majority of them will be doing exactly what you are teaching them to do in the lab component of your course: make buffers, plate bacteria, run gels or what have you.

      The net result is that if you are an English professor, you might not care if you don’t have time to expose your students to every single topic your course would ideally cover. And if a student of yours comes to your course not having been exposed to a specific background topic in a prerequisite course, it won’t impact you too much that the student will have holes in his/her knowledge, because the only students who need to really know your subject inside and out (because they will become literary critics or what not) are your best students anyway, and hence don’t have so many holes in their knowledge. OTOH, if you are a Biology professor and your students didn’t learn what an amino acid is in Bio 101, that means you need to teach them what an amino acid is in Biochemistry. And that means you don’t have time to teach them something else in Biochemistry. Which means that they might be unleashed into the “real world” having taken Biochemistry (and thus, as far as their boss knows, supposedly knowing certain things and techniques) yet not knowing one or more key learning outcomes from Biochemistry.

      This difference in “what I need my typical student to know after taking my class and finishing my department’s major” ends up contributing to all manner of debate about general education curricula, course repeat policies, how to do assessment, etc.

    • DAS

      On a more personal note (in terms of your story), do the skills you learn in theatre directing translate to another career? I know that visual arts and music (depending on what track you take) do actually translate well to certain kinds of work required in big-science: managing a portfolio or managing musical charts translate reasonably well to the organization required in project management and similar fields. Some of the technical skills learned in dealing with paints, computer-generated art, 3D printing, sound mixing, etc., translate reasonably well into scientific skills also.

      I don’t quite know how it works in terms of theatre though. I do have a second cousin who majored in drama and wanted eventually to go into law (figuring that not only did she like drama but it would be good preparation for handling trials) but ended up in the education field. Maybe you could do something in education?

    • LeeEsq

      Another advantage to a STEM heavy education that you get to avoid a lot of very loaded cultural and political questions that the humanities brings. We have a lot of culture war fights in the United States over how and what to teach in United States history. Deciding on what literature to teach brings even more culture war issues into play. Even if everybody agreed that the humanities were important, we would disagree vehemently on the focus. STEM avoids this.

      • DAS

        Doesn’t avoid all political questions: evolution, global climate change and the definition of what is a zygote vs embryo vs fetus are all very controversial in some quarters.

        • LeeEsq

          There are some loaded political and cultural issues even in a STEM focused education but generally much less than with the humanities, especially if you have a mainly secular population.

          • That is an issue if liberal arts is equated with citizenship education, or with inculcation into a culture. I think the latter is overstated and the former doesn’t actually require it, though.

          • Thirtyish

            I’m really not convinced that’s true.

  • We have had the same debate for years in medical education. For those not familiar with medical training in the USA, one first gets an undergraduate degree before going to medical school. That degree can be in anything as long as you have the prerequisite courses (biology, chemistry, etc.) as well. These days nearly all premedical students major in a science. But not everybody does.

    My undergraduate degree (40 years ago) was a history and religion double major, and more than a few of my fellow students in medical school did the same thing. Yet I went on to spend half my time for 20 years in very basic medical research in cellular biology. I think you learn what you need to know when you need to know it.

    During my years on the admissions committee of a pretty prestigious medical school (Mayo) during the 1990s I always looked for applicants who hadn’t majored in a science. There were fewer and fewer as time went by. There was also increasing hostility on the committee toward such students, although some slipped through. When I teach clinical medicine to students it is easy to spot the ones who were not STEM-type undergraduates. They stand out, in a good way. When I talk to them about it I often hear that their parents and advisers were horrified at their choice, insisting they would never get into medical school. There’s truth in that, but there shouldn’t be. There is good evidence performance and training in basic sciences doesn’t correlate at all with later success in medicine, even in the more technical specialties or if success is defined as research achievements.

    • Davis X. Machina

      As a lad, my pediatrician and dentist both had first degrees in classics. Didn’t hurt me none.

    • NewishLawyer

      I went to undergrad between 1998-2002. Only one pre-med that I knew had an English major. The rest were all bio, chem, or what we used to call biopsych (now it is called neuroscience) at my college.

    • DAS

      FWIW, one of my best Biochem students this past semester was a music major (vocal performance). She actually sung the national anthem at our graduation ceremony this year! Also, my dissertation (my Ph.D. is in Biochemistry) adviser double majored in English.

      Interestingly, it works both ways. One of my undergraduate “humanities core” (those of you who went to UC Irvine will know what I’m talking about) professors, IIRC, majored in Chemistry in addition to having a humanities major (and doctorate in a humanities field). In any case, she knew enough chemistry to help students with their chemistry homework in addition to helping them with their homework for the class she taught!

  • Quite Likely

    “Hillygus also finds that the differences in political engagement among college graduates are mirrored in K–12 education. High SAT verbal scores correlate with increased likelihood of political participation, while high SAT math scores correlate with decreased likelihood of participation. Again, since socioeconomic effects on SAT scores move both verbal and math scores in the same direction, this difference between how high verbal and high math scores affect the likelihood of participation must be telling us something about the relationship between attainment in specific subject domains and participatory readiness. Moreover, the SAT effect endures even when college-level curricular choices are controlled for. Just as Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Shleifer conclude, it is attainment in the verbal domain that correlates with participatory readiness.”

    This doesn’t seem to rule out the possibility that some people are better at / more interested in mathy subjects, while other people prefer verbal subjects, which include politics. In fact, given that curricula remain pretty similar through high school, I’d say that the fact that SAT scores can predict political engagement points to this being some intrinsic quality we’re measuring in different ways, as opposed to being evidence that getting more of a liberal arts education improves participation.

  • Davis X. Machina

    Canon law and theology were the meal tickets half a millennium ago. One-half vocational training, one-half the theoretical underpinnings of the Weltanschauung.

    Business administration and economics today. I guess.

    There were a few years in between when the proper study of man was man, but that didn’t have any staying power.

    • burritoboy

      Much more canon law than theology. Canon law was how you made sure the Church got its rents. Comparatively fewer high-ranking Church officials had training in theology than the many who had extensive training in canon law.

      Theology was geared towards mendicant or ascetic orders, which most right-thinking parents of the time strongly discouraged their children from joining. Thomas Aquinas’ parents locked him in his bedroom for a year because he wished to join the Dominicans over the Benedictines.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Precisely…

        There are hedge-fund manages, and bond salesmen on the one hand.

        Then there are finance professors.

        The formers’ bonuses are often greater than the latters’ salaries.

  • Origami Isopod

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is how very, very gendered in sociological terms the conversation about STEM vs. the humanities is.

    STEM is “hard” science, practical, reducible to digits or atoms, no ambiguity (supposedly, but that’s another topic of discussion). Though it’s not like these fields don’t require cooperation and collaboration, the popular image of a scientist, engineer, mathematician, or programmer is of one solitary and usually male genius solving problems on his own — an image that the programming field, at least, has deliberately promoted. So it’s considered masculine.

    The “soft” sciences and the humanities require an appreciation for aesthetics, a curiosity about what makes people tick, inductive and not just deductive reasoning, etc. etc. While there is certainly room in STEM for these traits and skills, they are not ones that STEM supremacists value. More to the point, they are skills associated with women.

    • Philip

      This is true, and also completely bizarre. The best computer scientists I know care deeply about the, for lack of a better word, aesthetics of their work. And they’re also the ones who are most concerned with building and working in effective teams. Since these are socialized as gendered things, they end up disproportionately being women.

      • Origami Isopod

        I suspect it has a lot to do with women becoming more and more common at co-ed universities from the 1960s onward and in the workplace from the 1970s onward. Women, who were even more disadvantaged in terms of STEM education than they are now, gravitated more toward the humanities. Once women start entering a field en masse, its prestige drops. Men, feeling that they were no longer in control of HASS, retreated to STEM and made a bunker of it. This attitude is mostly reflected in the harassment and other obstacles put in the way of women who want a STEM career, but it’s also reflected in this kind of rhetoric.

    • DAS

      While there is certainly room in STEM for these traits and skills, they are not ones that STEM supremacists value.

      I think you might be onto something with the distinction between STEM fields as they necessarily work in practice and what STEM supremacists value. For example, one of the most important indicators of success in chemistry is spatial reasoning. And a good way to get the kind of spatial sense you need to succeed in chemistry is to do a lot of art. Indeed, some of the most successful scientists are also good artists and many successful people in the para-science fields (project management for scientific projects, data auditing from new drug applications, etc.) have BFA rather than BS degrees. But STEM supremacists are not necessarily about teaching more art in school now are they?

      FWIW, my daughter’s school emphasizes something called STEAM (Science Technology Art and Math), and makes sure to integrate arts instruction into their curriculum.

      • Origami Isopod

        STEM supremacists seem to have a lot of overlap with evolutionary psychologists, the “human biodiversity” crowd, and other types who have some, at best, very outdated notions about science. Perhaps it would be uncharitable to paint them, by and large, as conservatives who abuse science to defend regressive policy. I don’t think it would be entirely inaccurate, however.

    • The Temporary Name

      Skills on this continent, that is. Other countries seem to do better. Iran for instance, in which 70% of engineering and science students are women.

      Iran’s still developing, and so puts great emphasis on those skills (and so less emphasis on humanities), but even so it should be obvious that we can do better.

      • Origami Isopod

        Oh, I’m aware of that. The sorts of people I’m talking about (mostly but not exclusively men) try to pretend that the curricula aren’t as stringent in such places. Just like they argue that in the early days of programming, women weren’t doing anything that complex. Basically, they’re taking pages from How to Suppress Women’s Writing and applying them to STEM.

      • LeeEsq

        There is an interesting issue with this though. Its true that many developing countries look like they are doing better with getting women into STEM fields on paper but reality turns out to be different. Most women studying to be doctors in Pakistan, to cite an example, do not end up practicing medicine. Rather the medical degree becomes something of a selling point on the marriage market and they end up as housewives. You need to look at how many women actually go into the field professionally as opposed to how many are studying it for whatever reason.

  • DAS

    There is a statistically significant difference between the rates of political participation among humanities and STEM graduates. Data from the Department of Education reveal that, among 2008 college graduates, 92.8 percent of humanities majors have voted at least once since finishing school. Among STEM majors, that number is 83.5 percent. And, within ten years of graduation, 44.1 percent of 1993 humanities graduates had written to public officials, compared to 30.1 percent of STEM majors.

    I wonder if this holds true for people who pursue advanced degrees. In my experience in academia, people on the STEM side of things (as well as people in Education) are a little bit more likely to be politically engaged than people on the humanities side and certainly more likely to be politically engaged than the folks in “business” side of campus. I don’t know if this holds true for STEM people in industry, though.

    • I wonder if this holds true for people who pursue advanced degrees. In my experience in academia, people on the STEM side of things (as well as people in Education) are a little bit more likely to be politically engaged than people on the humanities side and certainly more likely to be politically engaged than the folks in “business” side of campus. I don’t know if this holds true for STEM people in industry, though.

      My understanding is that in US *campus* politics, the humanities are more engaged.

      • DAS

        That is certainly true, but a some of that, at least on my campus, is a numbers thing: while organizations like the faculty senate are very keen to achieve equal representation from all departments, whether big or small, the fact is that an English department with hundreds of majors graduating every year and serving almost every single student on campus is gonna get its way a lot more than a Chemistry department with a graduation class of 20-30 each year. ETA: and if you win (get your way) more often, you are probably happier to play the game.

        Another factor is that many STEM faculty have research programs that take them away from spending time on campus politics. In larger schools, the very layout of the campus discourages STEM faculty from being involved in campus politics: their labs and offices are typically further away from the central administration buildings and rooms where campus committee/senate meetings take place than are the humanities buildings! I reckon you’re more likely to be involved in campus politics if it involves going to a meeting in the next building over than you are if your office is at the other end of campus or perhaps in the med school rather than being on the main campus!

  • Michael Cain

    Disclosure: I have an MS in an applied math field and an MA in public policy, acquired three decades apart. I am in favor of anyone getting a four-year STEM degree being well exposed to the humanities. I am also in favor of anyone getting a four-year humanities degree being exposed to particular subsets of technology. My own (no doubt biased) choices would be a systems analysis class (same reason engineers should see history, it’s a different way of looking at the world), and a couple of software classes. Software because it’s a software world, baby, and no one should be ignorant on the subject.

    • Pseudonym

      I think software is relatively easy for many people to pick up on their own, even humanities majors. I’d advocate for making an introductory statistics class part of general education. It’s a critical part of understanding any quantitative observational science.

      • I think software is relatively easy for many people to pick up on their own

        I think (at least, I hope) that Michael Cain means something different than training for particular software packages: courses more along the line of (somewhat) understanding the underlying structures involved, high-level stuff about programs and programming, and PLEASE a good serious look at user-interface issues (all those are consistent with his “systems analysis” proposal, as I would interpret it).

  • Seanly13

    I am a structural engineer so I know about STEM. Nothing but STEM would be a horrible, horrible existence. We need all of the liberal arts – literature, music, history, philosophy. anthropology, etc. etc. to give what scientists and engineers do context and meaning.
    To punch another canard in the nuts, STEM isn’t necessarily a great career. There are lots & lots of starving research scientists. Not all engineers make huge amounts of money.
    My own realm of civil engineering in the US is very male dominated and typically conservative. What we do need in STEM in the United States is much more diversity. We need more women, more minorities, more people of different political persuasions, and probably more LGBTQ people.
    Also, since people insist on not spending enough to replace or rehabilitate our crumbling bridges, I am fine if we don’t get enough people entering civil engineering. I need to stay busy for about another 20 years.
    My undergraduate alma mater, Lehigh University, was founded to produce well-rounded engineers who had a broad understanding of the liberal arts while being good engineers. The requirements of the majors inhibit that nowadays, but LU still prides itself on requiring the STEM students take electives outside of STEM.
    I am very thankful for my engineering & scientific understanding of the world along with a healthy appreciation of art, philosophy, etc.

  • Hallen

    You know, Loomis talks about this a lot, which is fine, but an article by a liberal arts professor excerpted by a liberal arts professor propounding the value of the liberal arts will always be slightly suspect to me. Your salary and position depends on liberal arts students.

    Fwiw, I think there is a place for liberal arts students, and liberal arts degrees, and there’s definitely a place for liberal arts teachers and required liberal arts courses. But the idea that kids going to sub-elite schools to get sub-elite degrees in history is bogus, and you ought to be aware of that. For myself, I have to be aware of that, because that’s what I did (history major), and it worked out about as well as any reasonable observer would’ve expected. (And then I went to law school at my state flagship, which is also a T3, because some people just don’t get it.) If I weren’t stupid, I’d have gotten a STEM degree. Of course, since I am stupid, I’d probably not have gotten it very easily.

    I think the commenter who mentioned above that the low value of libarts degrees is a symptom and not a cause is more-or-less right. Also the guy or gal who said that we have already decided that college is equivalent to job training. Libarts degrees teach you how to read and research and write and they may (or may not) teach you how to “think critically.” What is this worth to our capitalist overlords? (Not that STEM is some panacea, obviously. The world is terrible for many reasons.)

    I don’t begrudge libarts boosters (my girlfriend is a Ph.D. student, who went to Smith undergrad, and I’m proud of her, although I’m coming to regret moving to a new city with her, where my law degree and undergrad degree are even more worthless). However, the reality of education is that you’re throwing money (and four years) away with a libarts degree, an awful lot of the time. For better or worse, that’s certainly what it seems like to me. And it also seems like virtually nobody with an elite libarts education is worth listening to on this topic, because they can’t see past their own magical circle.

    • Hallen

      “ought to be going to sub-elite schools to get sub-elite degrees”

      Sorry. Timed out for editing.

    • Murc

      You know, Loomis talks about this a lot, which is fine, but an article by a liberal arts professor excerpted by a liberal arts professor propounding the value of the liberal arts will always be slightly suspect to me. Your salary and position depends on liberal arts students.

      This is insane. By this logic, you should distrust everything your doctor tells you about how to stay well, because his salary and position depends on you remaining ill enough to require treatment.

      • Hallen

        I didn’t say he didn’t believe it. I think he does; I don’t think anyone is being evil or disingenuous. (After all, Erik Loomis is not a law professor. I think he’s a good guy, too, even if I disagree with him a lot.)

        That said, one who enters a field and is successful in it is going to be partial to it; and one’s livelihood is a good foundation for an opinion, even if they have other, better arguments than “I like my job.” (As Allen and Loomis certainly do, although “libarts makes us good citizens” is questionable. A lot of leftists do gravitate toward the liberal arts, I suppose, and I can’t argue that they’re not better citizens than the alternative.)

        Plus there is an issue of class (or status) perspective. Loomis’ kids are better off than libarts grads from Lander. (Where? Exactly!) And this really, really ought to be part of the analysis, and it almost never, ever is.

        Finally, your analogy isn’t that great. I wouldn’t distrust a doctor, because the doctor has a far more vested interest in not committing malpractice than she does keeping me sick. What do you think Loomis or Allen stand to lose by boosting their profession in general terms? Nothing, obviously. Anyway, it’s just something that stands out to me–one doesn’t go to law school in 2008 and graduate in 2011 and fail to see the self-serving arguments for that brand of education. I think libarts teachers have a much solider foundation. Yet I was led to believe that “questioning premises and motivations, conscious or otherwise,” was indeed part of those “critical thinking skills” so vaunted by libarts proponents.

  • I didn’t realize this was the same Danielle Allen who had the (very good) Constitution forum at Crooked Timber.

    I’m all for the liberal arts. But the third paragraph quoted has a lot of caveats, which I think cut against the boosterism of the general argument against STEM-only. How widespread is the kind of thing Allen is championing? If the answer is “not much”, framing it as “against STEM only” would seem to make it harder for the changes she’s proposing to find supporters.

    if the answer is “everywhere”, that’s another story, but it doesn’t seem likely to me.

    At least, there’s a lot of specification that would have to go on before it got to the implementation level.

    (Also, I don’t see how the humanities teaches about cause and effect thinking in a way the sciences don’t. But that’s a quibble.)

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    This just in: Squishy liberal arts professor supports teaching the liberal arts! Story at 10.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Scientists (full disclosure, I am one) tend to be a lot more conversant with the humanities and fine arts than humanities majors and scholars are with math and science, which are crucial to understanding the world and universe in which we find ourselves. Get back to me when we’ve made real progress on correcting that deficit, then I may have time to worry about the topic of the OP.

    • twbb

      I’ve heard that expressed by STEM people on many occasions and it is inconsistent with my observations as someone who’s spent a lot of time around both sets of people.

    • Pseudonym

      This does not necessarily extend to the greater portion of us engineering and technology people, however.

    • sonamib

      Get back to me when we’ve made real progress on correcting that deficit, then I may have time to worry about the topic of the OP.

      But the two things are related. A lot of non-scientists fear engaging with science because of some sort of generalized mathphobia. The same mathphobia gives them the impression that science is “hard” and thus more valuable than the humanities.

      But we really need to stop with this bullshit that science is, in general, harder to study than the humanities. Which kind of education is harder depends on the inclinations and abilities of each individual student, it’s not some sort of universal truth that applies for everyone. Speaking for myself, I didn’t find my undergrad physics education especially hard. I mean, it wasn’t easy and required quite a lot of effort, but it would’ve been harder for me to do a more humanities-focused education.

      • twbb

        The funny thing is a large proportion of the sciences aren’t particularly math-y, and many of their practitioners are not particularly adept at math.

  • Bill Murray

    There actually are quite a few Engineering professors, like myself, that would like to significantly increase the HASS component of our programs, as for instance described some in the Engineer of 2020 documents, but between the constraints placed on our program by accreditation requirements and number of hours allowed by the Board of Regents for our program, it is difficult. We try to compensate by adding elements into some of our courses and having a student club that integrates related areas of art with our program areas it’s difficult. And really having engineers introduce elements of HASS is far from ideal.

    Accreditation is pretty much mandatory and 5 of the 11 accreditation criteria include aspects related to areas of study generally considered to be HASS, but much ends up in our engineering courses rather than in HASS mostly because of the number of credit hours, but also many of the accreditation requirements need to be context specific which is difficult to handle in courses outside the major, unless one’s department is huge.

    So tl;dr — More HASS would be great for engineers, as many engineering professor agree, but probably isn’t going to happen unless 5-6 year “professional” degrees become common.

  • Eli Rabett

    Whenever Loomis goes on one of these rants one should always stock up on salt.

    There is data

    https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_322.10.asp

    and it pretty much says that the growth of majors in history and the social sciences outpace that of engineering and there are more history and social science majors. There are about twice as many English majors as physical science majors and that has not budged much in the past thirty years or more

    The areas that have grown significantly are health science related and biology (read pre-med).

    • Pseudonym

      Only a rabid STEM partisan would be so callous and biased as to resort to using quantitative data!

    • twbb

      That doesn’t really contradict Loomis’ point, which is about the attack on the liberal arts and their importance generally.

  • Eli Rabett

    Hmm

    Today, students are officially encouraged to major in STEM majors or business. Majors in humanities are plummeting throughout the country. College administrations take the vast majority of faculty resources and steer them toward STEM fields. My colleagues in Business and Chemistry talk of dealing with students who don’t want to be there, not for one Gen Ed course, but for 4 years. These are students who would love to major in History or English but are explicitly told by their parents that they won’t pay for the education if they don’t major in STEM or business. The administrators encourage this.

    This gets it precisely backwards. Yes, there is a push to involve more students as STEM majors, but with the exception of the health sciences and biology that push is motivated more by the hope to keep up rather than falling. Eli would wager that 97% of those parents are looking for a physician in the family or somebunny to take over the family business. It ain’t chemistry, physics, and it pretty much ain’t engineering, which has had modest growth but less than the social sciences and history.

  • jimpharo

    “real consequences for our politics and society.”

    Also, too: real consequences to our idea of what “academia” and “scholarship” mean. Humans can no more fail to make, study and appreciate art than they can stop eating. Same with explaining, inquiring, etc. If this is suppressed from the academy, it’s not going to cease existing. It’ll just take some other form.

    I like hippie-style communes, but I’m open-minded…

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