October 20, 2011
We’ve all heard the argument before: Our education system needs to start focusing primarily on science, math, engineering and technology, and veer away from fluffy liberal arts education.
Needless to say, this theory is old and outdated, but not according to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who railed against the merits of a liberal arts education on a radio show this week, claiming, “I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state … Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
While Scott is certainly entitled to his own opinion, he has to look no further than his own family tree to find a member of the liberal arts community. Scott’s daughter, Jordan Kandah ’08, graduated from the College of William and Mary with a anthropology degree. Oops.
Yes, students with STEM degrees are some of the most sought after upon graduation and are often paid well. But the prospect of a slightly higher entry salary does not mean that earning a liberal arts degree is worthless. Sure, the ability to recite Shakespeare’s sonnets and discuss the merits of 18th century architecture is not always pertinent, but liberal arts educations often teach high level reasoning skills and the ability to communicate. We don’t find it necessary to defend the merits of a liberal arts education, but we certainly don’t feel that students should be admonished for purusing degrees in non-STEM related fields.
This isn’t to say STEM education isn’t needed. Both areas should be provided for within our education system. In fact, the College has been given a grant to implement STEM programs within the local middle school system. To be clear, we are not against math and science, and we do not favor the banishment of all practical sciences from campus. We want this partnership to continue, but we don’t want STEM subjects to be promoted above other subjects.
The recent surge toward STEM programs can be attributed to economic troubles easily. Many people, including Scott, believe technology and innovation are the new ways to be competitive in a globalized world. It’s true that, education in STEM areas can help advance our world standing, but so can education in the liberal arts. A STEM degree certainly does not guarantee success — a D-student with a degree in biochemistry will not always outperform an A-student with an English degree.
Throughout its long history, the College administration has always embraced all fields of education, and we hope this continues. It is unfortunate that the College’s respect for a liberal arts education is not reflected at the national level. Scott’s comments represent the all-too-common belief that the humanities are simply not worth studying. The fact is, without diversity through the liberal arts, education would not be as innovative or creative.
The liberal arts and STEM programs are both needed, and it is futile to choose one over the other. We don’t need to argue the merits of the liberal arts, and we won’t. We won’t allow for the liberal arts to be thrown aside and ignored.