Humanities and STEM Can and Should Get Along Better

In my lit and writing classes, I regularly encounter STEM students who are frustrated because I won’t deliver a lecture that tells them “what the poem means” and then give them points for spitting back the “correct answer.”

Likewise, when I teach a math unit in my journalism class, I regularly encounter word-oriented students who are frustrated by the specificity of numbers.

Truth be told, some of my “your petty rules stifle my creative brilliance” students also chafe at the conventions of grammar and punctuation. And I regularly run into hybrid students like science majors with a humanities minor (though not so many English majors with a STEM or business minor). I am doing what I can to bridge that cultural divide.

In that spirit, I was intrigued by this passage from Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule’s article “The Two Cultures Fallacy” in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Seeing the conflict as a carry-over of the ancient debate between the active life and the contemplative life explains why the two sides have remained so intransigent: Each is defined in opposition to the other, each needs the other to play counterpoint. Both sides can articulate the values they hold in emotionally satisfying but utterly imprecise contrasts: useful versus useless, material versus idealistic, narrowly careerist versus broadly learned. As long as this opposition itself remains unquestioned, any “defense” of the humanities will only reinforce and prolong the debate. | This would not pose a problem if the debate were merely a highbrow parlor game — as it has been at various stages of its long history — but the stakes now are too high to dismiss. —Chronicle of Higher Education