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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(Please Read Part I First)

Playing Cleopatra: Hollywood and Anglophone Television Castings

View full article. | Posted in on Tue, 11/03/2020 - 6:02am by .

On October 11 2020, American screenwriter and producer of Greek descent Laeta Kalogridis posted this tweet:

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 11/02/2020 - 9:13am by .

Dear colleague,

You probably don’t remember the muffins.

Over the last decade, we’ve tried all kinds of messages to encourage you to support the SCS Annual Fund.  We’ve used inspirational quotes from Homer, Ovid, Plutarch, and Cavafy; we’ve included testimonials from grateful recipients of fellowships; we’ve offered matching gifts; we’ve set our text as limericks; and yes, we’ve even tried muffins as metaphors.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 10/28/2020 - 1:58pm by Helen Cullyer.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study 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 reading groups comparing ancient to modern leadership practices to collaborations with artists in theater, music, and dance. Most of the projects funded take place in the US and Canada, though the initiative is growing and has funded projects in the UK, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ghana, and Puerto Rico. This post discusses a project for school-age children in rural Italy that draws attention to the ancient past through the contemporary world.

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 10/28/2020 - 10:56am by .

FELLOWSHIPS FOR RESEARCH AND STUDY AT THE GENNADIUS LIBRARY 2021-2022
 

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is pleased to announce the academic programs and fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year at the Gennadius Library. Opened in 1926 with 26,000 volumes from diplomat and bibliophile Joannes Gennadius, the Gennadius Library now holds a richly diverse collection of over 146,000 books and rare bindings, archives, manuscripts, and works of art illuminating the Hellenic tradition and neighboring cultures. The Library has become an internationally renowned center for the study of Greek history, literature, and art, especially from the Byzantine period to modern times.
 

COTSEN TRAVELING FELLOWSHIP FOR RESEARCH IN GREECE: Short-term travel award of $2,000 for senior scholars and graduate students, for work at the Gennadius Library. Open to all nationalities. At least one month of residency required. School fees are waived for a maximum of two months.

DEADLINE: JANUARY 15, 2021.
 

THE GEORGE PAPAIOANNOU FELLOWSHIP: Ph.D. candidates or recent PhDs writing on Greece in the 1940’s and the post-war period, civil wars and the history of the Second World War. Fellows are required to make use of the George Papaioannou Papers housed at the Archives of the ASCSA. Open to all nationalities. School fees are waived for a maximum of two months. Stipend of €2,000. 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:23am by Erik Shell.

August 2020 saw the release of  Total War Saga: Troy, a strategy video game where the player takes on the role of one of various heroes on either side of the Trojan War and leads their armies to victory. If you’ve ever wanted to play Penthesilea defeating Achilles, here’s your chance.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/23/2020 - 8:03am by .

Call for Papers, “Contact, Colonialism, and Comparison” Conference

Different methods of ‘comparing antiquities’ do or do not presuppose the existence of contact between the civilizations they compare, or else weigh differently the importance of contact to the work of comparison. Underlying these differences are methodological questions like: to what extent, and in what ways, the history of contact between different civilizations plays a role in the work of comparison? To what extent the fact of contact between two civilizations legitimates their comparison? How the aims and methods of comparison differ in cases where contact has or has not taken place? More subtly, how should the intellectual history of contact in later periods of a region’s history affect how we do comparative work on earlier periods of that history?

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 10/21/2020 - 11:15am by Erik Shell.

REVISED, 10/20/2020

The deadline for applications for the position of Editor of TAPA has been extended to November 20, 2020. Furthermore, in recognition of the increased demands currently being made on faculty time, we will now entertain, in addition to applications to be sole Editor, proposals from any self-formed team of two co-editors who wish to share the duties. A two-person application should include a statement of how the two co-editors will complement each other, how they will divide tasks, how often they will consult each other, and how they will reach consensus in difficult cases.

Call for Applications for Editor of TAPA (2022-2025)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 10/20/2020 - 12:54pm by Helen Cullyer.

Please see the following deadlines, some of which have recently been extended:

October Deadlines

Nominations for the Forum Prize: October 23 (extended deadline)

Classics Everywhere microgrant applications: October 26 (extended deadline)

November Deadlines

Nominations for the Precollegiate Teaching Award: November 2 (extended deadline)

Pearson Fellowship applications: November 6

TLL Fellowship applications: November 6

December Deadline

Frank M. Snowden Jr. Undergraduate Scholarships (formerly the Minority Scholarships): December 11

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 10/19/2020 - 12:34pm by Erik Shell.

Registration for the 2021 virtual annual meeting is now open!

You can register here: https://aia-scs-2021.secure-platform.com/

We also have funding available to support free registration for graduate students, contingent faculty, and unemployed scholars. You can apply for a registration subvention until November 15th using this form. We will also be sharing information soon on volunteer opportunities since we will be seeking volunteers to assist with tech support within sessions. If you are applying for a registration subvention or are interested in volunteering, please do not pay for registration at this stage.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:28am by Erik Shell.

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