I wrote a while back about different books that influenced me, as well as books that I thought folks should read (or have read) to really get their mind wrapped around a breadth of voices and visions.
Well, that topic is part of a much larger argument/debate in which I’m involved. I wish I could say the debate was new and fresh. It’s not. It’s one of the oldest debates around: what makes someone educated?
Now, to set the stage a bit…this debate is taking place in a forum for navalists. Many are current or former officers or senior enlisted, some are involved in naval history, and others are civilians in the world of defense policy or products.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying this is a STEM playground. My degrees in history and linguistics are not in the majority.
The gist of the argument is the same you can hear or read in the news these days: the only legitimate courses of study are the STEM majors. Anything else is a waste of time, money and effort.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we need engineers and scientists and accountants.* We need lots of them. But is that the totality of life? Of intelligence and education? Not even a little bit.
*Shit like Marketing and Poli-Sci? Those we can drop into a hole, fill the hole, then nuke the shit out of the land containing said hole…
Short of modern day Germany, pretty much the most engineering-centric society in human history was ancient Rome. The Romans really only did three things well: make laws, kill people, and build stuff. We love to look at the buildings and roads they left, but how many names of Roman architects do we remember?
We remember Caesar (who could do all three superbly well), Cicero, Virgil and Ovid. Heck, we remember Marcus Aurelius as a writer and philosopher far more than as a general and builder.
I used Caesar and Marcus Aurelius as examples very intentionally. To them I could add other names: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Ben Franklin, Tokugawa Ieyasu…
What do all these names have in common? They could do it all.
There was a current in history, up until the mid-20th century or thereabouts, that demanded a person who wanted to consider themselves educated have a wide and comprehensive base of knowledge.
Literature, Poetry, Music, Art, Personal Combat*, Engineering, Strategy, Politics, Math, Logic, Language. A bit of everything was expected, to be honest. Of course people could and would be better at some of those versus others – the Caesars and DaVincis are real rarities – but the expectation was to have at least a grounding in all.
*I’ll use that term to cover the wide variety of fighting skills (swords, spears, bows, guns, etc…) that changed and evolved as time went by.
But that message has seemingly been lost. We are telling students today that only math matters. That things like history and literature and art and music are wastes. I cannot and will not accept that. Not even the littlest bit.
To be honest, I would like to see all levels of schools, from elementary through college, bring back a breadth of education. I want kids to learn algebra, geometry and calculus, yes, but at the same time I want them to learn the basics of music. I want them to learn to appreciate art and literature. Crap, I also want committed and dedicated PE classes.
A person is a whole that is greater than the sum of his or her parts. But if you neglect any of those parts, that whole becomes vastly less. Challenge yourself, and challenge any kids you know and can influence: learn it all. Be a whole person, don’t be the limited stereotypes that “society” today seems to want.