STEM Education Versus Humanities

The debate about whether STEM education is more important than the Humanities or vice versa in today’s globalized, knowledge-based economy is heating up as western countries, such as the United States, face stiff competition for economic and military dominance from emerging Asian powers like China.  Most studies indicate that American students are now globally ranked in 21st position in mathematics, 25th in science and 24th in problem solving.  The competition for world dominance obviously starts in the classroom and the stakes are very high.  No country wants to be left behind.

As a quick reminder, STEM education is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  The Humanities include literature, history, the arts, philosophy, religion, language, law, and the social sciences, such as psychology and sociology.

STEM education, by its very nature, produces innovation and new products.  It moves countries forward economically and STEM jobs are growing at a very fast rate.  It is also agreed by most researchers that STEM workers earn about 26% more money than workers in the Humanities.  In fact, the demand for STEM jobs is outpacing the supply and there is an evident need for more STEM graduates.  STEM education determines the future economic development of any country and it is highly prized by governments and companies in the private sector.  STEM workers are busy solving the big questions of today’s world.  Questions connected to solutions for global warming, incurable diseases, and stagnant economic growth, among others.  STEM education deals with real world issues and it fosters critical thinking and problem solving, as well as scientific and technological innovation and invention.

The Humanities represent the many ways in which mankind, through the ages, records, processes and explores human experience.  The Humanities allow us to think creatively and critically, reason and ask questions relating to human behavior and human ambitions.  These questions are useful in every sphere of life, including business, politics, economics, and scientific development.  The questions posed by the Humanities include moral, ethical, and legal considerations.  These questions enable us to set acceptable limits or guidelines for STEM workers and people in general.

The Humanities bring beauty and pleasure to our lives.  Who would want to live in a world without music, great paintings, novels, poetry, or exciting films?  Through the Humanities we understand each other better.  We learn to appreciate the values of other cultures.  We learn new ways of thinking and we understand the world we live in much better.  Through history, we understand the past and the present better and we can shape the future in a more informed way.  Philosophy and religion lead to discussions of ethics, morality and spirituality.  We position ourselves to create a better society in the future and we enhance communication among individuals and nations through better use of language.  Critical thinking and good writing skills are two of the best gifts offered by the Humanities.

Many persons find work in the Humanities.  Service economies, the media, the cultural and creative industries, politics and government and many other areas of the Humanities are thriving.

We cannot overlook the fact that Gardner’s multiple intelligences may predispose some individuals to careers in STEM fields and others to careers in the Humanities.  In my view, we need both STEM and Humanities education.  They are both vital to the development and well-being of human society.  Students who major in either STEM education or the Humanities should be encouraged to do a few courses in the other area.

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2 thoughts on “STEM Education Versus Humanities

  1. Of tremendous concern to me about the future of the world’s children and the future in general, is the competition for world dominance. World dominance creates a life of brutal inequalities for many students and most of the people on the planet. And so..I prefer integrating the humanities with the sciences as you have pointed to. I do not want to primarily engage myself or my students in studies that will get them great jobs and be able to compete in the world dominance marketplace-but instead to engage with them and anyone else who is capable of thought, in how to become a more equitable and vibrant society that can work together to survive and thrive on the other end of vexing environmental problems. World wide learning communities!

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    • I applaud and share your ideals and values and your vision for your students. Unfortunately our views are in direct conflict with those of the dominant political, industrial and military systems of this world.

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