President's Letter for March 2013: STEM Subjects Are Not the Only Essential Ones

There has been a lot of talk in the US recently about the importance of encouraging the study of the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  In the UK, the civil service has long been advocating such an emphasis on STEM, although it is revealing that in the US people still tend to focus on whether this or that education is a good “investment” for the individual, whereas in Britain the government agencies are more concerned with which education is best for society as a whole (on “investment” as the wrong metaphor in the first place, see Bob Connor’s recent post).

In response to this new wave of pressure, there have been a number of excellent defenses of the value of studying non-STEM subjects, and I do not want to rehearse that case here; let me just refer you to the fine column in the Washington Post by Danielle Allen, for example, and to the new AHA website I recently recommended on making the case for the value of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  But I just want to comment on the background of the lawmakers who are the most recent ones to advocate strongly for specific practical steps to foster STEM.

The Economist recently had a leader on US immigration reform, in which they applauded in particular an initiative from a bipartisan group of eight Senators which would allow foreign nationals who go to US universities to remain in the country after graduation: “They would…give an automatic green card to anyone gaining a master’s degree or a doctorate in science, technology, engineering or maths from an American university” (February 2nd, 2013, p.10).

This is a very controversial proposal in various ways, as is a similar proposal to give six-year visas to up to 300,000 foreign high-tech workers a year (see the New York TimesOp Ed piece on this subject last month by Ross Eisenbrey).  But it’s interesting that no one appears to be advocating giving an automatic green card to anyone gaining an advanced degree in the humanities or social sciences, although even at a crassly utilitarian level it might look like a good idea to increase the number of US residents who, for example, have an intimate knowledge of other languages and cultures.  I’m not necessarily arguing for such a green card policy myself, but the assumption that it is self-evidently “useful” to foster certain subjects and not others is worth pushing back against before it becomes completely automatic.

If you look at the educational background of the eight Senators, it’s even more interesting that they appear not to see value in retaining as a member of US society someone with a degree in humanities or social sciences.  Only one of the group (Lindsey Graham, R-SC) has an undergraduate major in a science subject (Psychology).  The others have undergraduate degrees in History (Michael Bennet, D-CO); International Relations (Dick Durbin, D-IL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Marco Rubio, R-FL); Political Science (Bob Menendez, D-NJ); and Government (Chuck Schumer, D-NY).  John McCain (R-AZ) attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and so wasn’t in the business of choosing majors, but he preferred literary and historical subjects, reporting in his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers: “Unfortunately, the curriculum at the Academy was weighted preponderantly toward math and the sciences” (p.134).

In their choices of major, these Senators are fairly representative of their colleagues in Congress.  In the 112th Congress, apart from the 26 Members of the House and the single Senator who had no more than a high school diploma, government and the humanities accounted for 55.7% of the undergraduate majors; 13.7% had degrees in Business and Accounting, with 8.4% in Economics.  24 members had a medical degree.  Only 11.5% of the members of the 112th Congress had an undergraduate major in Science and Technology (for these figures, see Mark J. Perry’s post).

I can’t help wondering if Messrs. Bennet, Durbin, Flake, Menendez, Rubio and Schumer actually believe that the subjects they majored in are useless and that their undergraduate education did not provide them with skills and perspectives that the country has benefitted from. 

Let me be clear: I am enthusiastically in favor of the study of STEM subjects, not least because I believe that science and mathematics are a vital part of a liberal arts education.  I’d be very happy to see more highly trained scientists and engineers in government (it may seem redundant to state this, but one can be easily misunderstood in these debates).  But the value of a general education in the liberal arts, including science, mathematics, the humanities and social sciences, is something we must keep affirming in the face of the consensus one can sense developing. 

I would like to imagine the day when a President gives a State of the Union address to Congress in which he or she quotes the wisdom of George Washington in the first ever State of the Union address, on January 8, 1790: “Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”  Even if we update the spelling and take away the Gothic “k” from “publick”, it is hard to imagine a President today writing those words, with their firm understanding of the value of the whole domain of knowledge.

Denis Feeney
President

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For the first time since 2016, the SCS will be holding four seminars at this year’s annual meeting.

Seminars as a rule concentrate on more narrowly focused topics and aim at extensive discussion. In order to allow the time to be spent mainly on discussion, the SCS publishes a notice about the session in advance, and organizers distribute copies of the papers (normally three or four in number) to be discussed to those who request them.  Attendance at a seminar will, if necessary, be limited to the first 25 people who sign up. Seminars are normally three hours in length. Registered meeting attendees may sign up at no additional cost for one or more of these seminars during the month of October.

You can chceck out this year's seminars and sign up here: https://classicalstudies.org/annual-meeting/2020/151/2020-annual-meeting-seminars

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/30/2019 - 10:40am by Erik Shell.

The new Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities all over the US and Canada with the worlds of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. As part of this initiative the SCS has been funding a variety of projects ranging from children’s programs to teaching Latin in a prison. In this post we focus on four programs that use the performing arts for the exploration and appreciation of Greek and Latin literature.

Observing artists who work imaginatively and freely with the ancient material encourages students to think and act in non-linear ways. Cultivating one’s imagination is particularly important for Classicists, who are constantly seeking for new interpretations and new approaches to the ancient past. The projects below funded by the SCS’ Classics Everywhere Initiative invite their audiences to examine Greek and Roman literature through dance, theater, and staged readings; to explore known stories through different lenses; to stimulate their imagination; and to satisfy the human desire for creativity, entertainment, and learning.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 09/27/2019 - 6:12am by Nina Papathanasopoulou.

The Ancient Mediterranean for Modern Audiences: Reception, Pedagogy, Entertainment

March 6-7, 2020
Ohio Union, Columbus, Ohio

The aim of the OSU Classics Graduate Student Colloquium is to explore various directions in which the Ancient Mediterranean has been adapted and utilized by different cultures in Modern world from the Renaissance to the present day. In recent years, the online journal “Eidolon” and other public scholarship media have already successfully demonstrated how the cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean can be accessed, interpreted, and applied through various experiences by scholars, students, writers, and by the wider communities. We believe that the reception of Ancient Mediterranean cultures has become an important element of Classical scholarship and pedagogy. It is a critical point of contact between the academic community and the general audience.

The OSU Classics Graduate Student Colloquium invites papers on a range of topics that discuss and analyze the reception of the Ancient Mediterranean from a point of view of philology, linguistics, theater and performance studies, history, pedagogy, archaeology, art history, philosophy, anthropology, political studies, media studies, and/or gender studies. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/26/2019 - 12:34pm by Erik Shell.

Conference: Cathartic History

University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA
February 25-27, 2021

The aim of this conference and the edited collection that will result is to propose Aristotelian catharsis as a new lens for historical inquiry. The project aims to do so, specifically, through the study of cathartic history as a phenomenon in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean and in the field of Classical history today. In the process, the project will serve as an example of the productive application of catharsis to the study of the past, and thus a model for other fields of historical research.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/26/2019 - 10:22am by Erik Shell.

SCS member and Classical Studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania Emily Wilson has won a 2019 MacArthur Fellowship by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

You can read the full announcement on the UPenn page here.

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 09/26/2019 - 9:55am by Erik Shell.

International Association for Presocratic Studies

Seventh Biennial Conference: 15-19 July 2020
Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Chair of Organizing Committee: Miriam Peixoto

The International Association for Presocratic Studies announces its Seventh Biennial Conference. The meeting will take place at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil 15-19 June 2020 (http://www.ufmg.br). 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:37am by Erik Shell.

Poetry, Philosophy, and Mathematics: Performance, Text, and External Representations in Ancient Greek Cultural Practices

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:02am by Erik Shell.

The SCS board of directors has endorsed a statement on the use of student evaluations of teaching developed by the American Sociological Association.

The board has also reaffirmed its own statement of November 28, 2016 that condemns “the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.” In accordance with that statement, the board has also endorsed the American Historical Association’s statement on Domestic Terrorism, Bigotry, and History and would like to draw attention to its condemnation of the “recent deployment of histories invented in the interest of bigotry, violence, and division.”

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 09/25/2019 - 10:22am by Erik Shell.

Registration is now live for the Spatial Turn in Roman Studies Auckland conference, to be held January 22-24, 2020. For information about the conference, please see https://www.dur.ac.uk/classics/spatialturn/auckland/

If you plan to attend the Auckland conference, please fill out this registration form, including reading the event code of conduct linked to in the form.  

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 09/25/2019 - 9:09am by Erik Shell.

Here are a few important deadlines coming up at the end of this month:

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 09/20/2019 - 8:32am by Erik Shell.

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