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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"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Braggart Soldier

The Shackouls Honors College at Mississippi State University presents a performance of the Braggart Soldier, a Roman comedy by Plautus.

The play, directed by Dr. Donna L. Clevinger, will be performed at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 24th and Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 in Griffis Hall Courtyard, Zacharias Village. Both performances will go up rain or shine and be free to the public.

This production is part of the Honors College Classical Week 2019. For additional information, call 662-325-2522.

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(Photo: "Empty Theatre (almost)" by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:17am by Erik Shell.

Registration for the Joint AIA/SCS Annual Meeting is now open!

Reservations at the conference hotel are now open. You can reserve your room at the Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C. here. We have also booked an overflow hotel for the conference, located a 3 minute walk from the Marriott. You can reserve your room at the Renaissance Washington D.C., Downtown here.

To register for the meeting itself, click here.

For other important information, such as the preliminary program, see the "Essential Links" section on our Annual Meeting page here.

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 9:50am by Erik Shell.

(Written by Donald Lateiner, acknowledging gratefully the help, research, and energy of the following people in compiling this SCS memorial: Natalie Wirshbo, Greg Bucher, Brad Cook, Kerri Hame, Nick Genovese, Robert Eisner, Page duBois, and June Allison. Rosaria Munson and Joe Patwell also offered observations. E. Marianne Gabel captured the photograph below on the left at Le Trou Normand during the 2016 SCS meetings in San Francisco. Natalie Wirshbo provided the photograph on the right)

ELIOT WIRSHBO. 24 January 1948--19 July 2019.

Parents: Nathan and Peggy Wirshbo.

Education: Hunter College BA 1968, University of Pennsylvania PhD 1976.

Positions: San Diego State University 1977-1979, Ohio State University 1979-82, lecturer (eventually tenured) at University of California San Diego, Department of Literature 1982-2019.

Dissertation: "Attitudes toward the past in Homer and Hesiod," 1976, directed by Martin Ostwald.

Publications: “On mistranslating Vergil Aen. 1.203,” CW 73.3 (1979) 177-178.

“Lesbia, a mock hypocorism?” CPh 75.1 (1980) 70-71.

“Can emotions be determined from words?” American Behavioral Scientist 33.3 (1990) 287-96.

"On Critically Looking into Snell's Homer," in Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, ed. R. Rosen and J. Farrell (Ann Arbor 1993) 467-77.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 9:32am by Erik Shell.

(Written and provided by Ward Briggs)

Lee, Mark Owen (1930-2019)

Fr. M. Owen Lee (as he preferred to be called) was a beloved fixture at the University of Toronto, where he spent nearly 30 years of his life, and a perceptive critic of Latin poetry. He is, however, best remembered by the sophisticated public as a longtime panelist on the Texaco Opera Quiz, where he answered questions with remarkable alacrity (he was often the first to raise his hand to answer) and with a seemingly fathomless depth of knowledge about opera.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:48am by Erik Shell.

AIA and SCS are pleased to announce the first-ever joint harassment policy for the AIA-SCS Annual Meeting. A joint AIA and SCS working group, including staff and officers of both organizations, developed the policy in response to events at the 2019 annual meeting and at other academic conferences, including the meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The working group took into account feedback that AIA and SCS received via email, social media, and the annual meeting survey from members and attendees after the San Diego meeting. The group also considered policies and best practices in place at other scholarly societies. The policy has been reviewed by legal counsel representing AIA and SCS, and approved by the AIA Executive Committee and SCS Board of Directors.

The policy applies to all annual meeting attendees. Registrants will be asked on the registration form to check a box on that form indicating that they have read and will abide by the terms of the policy. We will also share the policy with our annual meeting hotels as part of ongoing collaborations designed to foster mutual respect among all involved in any capacity with the annual meeting.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:39am by Erik Shell.

In March of 2019, Jordan Peele's Us was released in theaters. Much like his previous project, Get Out (2017), Us took the horror world by storm. Unlike Get Out, whose direct references to U.S. racism were the foundation of the plot, Peele left Us intentionally vague; allowing for a flurry of online theories to be born as to what his intended meaning may have been. To those with a knowledge of ancient philosophy, however, Us appeared to be a modern horror version of Plato's allegory of the cave.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 08/29/2019 - 5:28pm by Justin Lorenzo Biggi.

As the new term approaches and gets underway, the SCS Blog is bringing you fresh perspectives and actionable ideas on teaching the languages, history, and material culture of the ancient Mediterranean.  Try something small — or something big — to kickstart your course!

τίς δ’ οὐχὶ χαίρει νηπίοις ἀθύρμασιν;

Who does not find delight in childish amusements?

Euripides, Auge fr. 272 TrGF

Anyone who has taught an introductory language class is familiar with the age-old challenge of keeping students active and engaged, especially when these courses tend to meet four to five times a week in the morning. This challenge becomes particularly acute for morphology-heavy beginning courses in ancient Greek and Latin, where “drilling” declensions and conjugations has long been a staple. In short: I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial in suggesting that it is easy for drudgery to reign in our beginning language courses.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/26/2019 - 7:06am by Amy Lather.

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 after-school enrichment programs to collaborations with artists in theater and dance. In this post, we focus on four projects that engaged new audiences by allowing them to explore what it was like to do and think as the Greeks and Romans did.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:54pm by Mallory Monaco Caterine.
NEH Logo

August, 2019

Below is a list of the most recent NEH grantees and their Classically-themed projects. The NEH helps fund a number of SCS initiatives, and their support affects the field of Classics at a national and local level.

Grantees

  • Gregory Crane (Tufts College) - "Beyond Translation: New Possibilities for Reading in a Digital Age"
  • Matthew Panciera (Gustavus Adolphus College) - "Roman Daily Life in Petronius and Pompeii"
  • Sturt Manning (Cornell University) - "Medieval Monuments and Wooden Cultural Heritage on Cyprus: Building History with Tree-Rings"
  • Elise Friedland (George Washington University) - "Classical Washington: Greece and Rome in the Art and Architecture of D.C."
  • David Konstan (New York University) - "The Legends of Barbara and Katherine in the Greek Tradition (4th - 10th Centuries)"
  • Elizabeth Samet (United States Military Academy) - "The Nine Lives of Alexander the Great"
  • Jose Bermudez (Texas A&M University, College Station) - "Reconsidering the Sources of the Self in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Periods"

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View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 08/22/2019 - 1:15pm by Erik Shell.

Many thanks to Bill Beck for his SCS blog post on funding opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, teachers and aspiring teachers. In September, look out for more resources on funding, specifically on funding offered by North American institutions to students enrolled in their MA / PhD programs and terminal MA / MAT programs. This forthcoming resource has been a summer project of the SCS office and our summer interns.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:20am by Helen Cullyer.

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