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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What is the interplay between Classics and literary translation? What are the preparatory actions for launching a new journal that will address problems and lacunae within the field? Adrienne K.H. Rose explores the challenges of beginning a translation journal which will address the philosophies, difficulties, and necessity for diversity within the area of classical translation.

Early Latin translators, including Cicero (De optimo genere oratorum iv. 13-v.14), Horace (Ars poetica II.128-44), Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria X.xi 1-11; X.v.1-5), and Jerome (Chronicle 1-2) distinguish between the act of word for word––or literal translation––and literary translation. The latter type of translation prioritizes senses, aesthetics, and rhetorical verve. However, language pedagogy in Classics departments emphasize the first type of translation, word for word, and often stop short of encouraging more literary pursuits. In fact, creative translations that deviate from translationese (a kind of literal, affected translation style from which the reader may deduce the exact parsing of the original word) is actively discouraged.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 11/08/2019 - 6:29am by Adrienne K.H. Rose.

This is a reminder from the SCS Office that members hoping to register at the reduced Early Registration rate for the Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. must do so on or before this Friday, November 8th.

If you find you are unable to register or in need of any help please contact our registration vendor at aia-scs@showcare.com

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 11/06/2019 - 10:58am by Erik Shell.

2020 Annual Meeting: Seminars

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.

Third Paper Session, Friday, January 3, 1:45-4:45 PM

State Elite? Senators, Emperors and Roman Political Culture 25BCE-400CE (Seminar)
John Weisweiler, St John's College, University of Cambridge, Organizer

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 11/04/2019 - 10:21am by Erik Shell.

"WARNING: Storm Approaching": Weather, the Environment, and Natural Disasters in the Ancient Mediterranean

24th Annual Classics Graduate Student Colloquium, University of Virginia
March 21, 2020

Keynote Speaker: Clara Bosak-Schroeder (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign): "Academia in the Climate Emergency"

Scientific, aesthetic, and religious conceptions of weather events appear throughout Classical antiquity, as the Greeks and Romans attempted to make sense of environmental phenomena. Often, these events were explained as expressions of divine wrath or favor. Storms and natural disasters figured as literary devices, for example to delay narrative action or as metaphors for the cyclic nature of human life. Climate, broadly defined, was thought to determine national character, and weather played a critical role in military expeditions. Recently, scholars have made considerable advances in applying principles of bioarchaeology to the study of the ancient world. Hand in hand with these, theorists working with the tools of ecocriticism envision a humanities broader than humans, accounting for the whole natural world.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 11/01/2019 - 2:55pm by Erik Shell.

Modern cinema and Greek tragedy illustrate that few things elicit a fear more profound than parents killing children. Horror movies have often grappled with figures of “monstrous” mothers in particular, from the obsessive, hypochondriac Sonia Kaspbrack in Stephen King's IT (1986), to the lonely, murderous Olivia Crain in Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House (2018). In Greek tragedy, too, mothers are often monsters: women like Medea, Agave or Althaea are all tragic examples of women who have killed their children. In both genres, these gestures of extreme violence are meant to shock and unsettle the audience by pushing back against “normal” familial bonds, bringing into question relationships of gender, the body and motherhood.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 11/01/2019 - 5:16am by Justin Lorenzo Biggi.

The Outreach Prize Committee is delighted to award the 2019 Outreach Prize of the Society for Classical Studies to Dr. Salvador Bartera, Assistant Professor of Classics and Dr. Donna Clevinger, Professor of Communication and Theatre at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi.  For the past five years, Professors Bartera and Clevinger have organized “Classical Week” at MSU, which includes a two-night run of an ancient comedy or tragedy and a colloquium about an aspect of the performance. This joint venture of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and the Shakouls Honors College showcases the interdisciplinarity of the event, in which Dr. Clevinger choreographs and directs the production, Dr. Bartera serves as dramaturge, and both collaborate on the colloquium.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/31/2019 - 9:09am by Erik Shell.

The Classics Program of the Department of Classical and Oriental Studies at Hunter College invites you to the Annual E. Adelaide Hahn Lecture.

Speaker: Emily Greenwood, Professor of Classics, Yale University

Friday November 8, 2019

  • Pre-Lecture Reception: 5:30-6:00 pm
  • Lecture: 6:00-7:00 pm “Verso Poetics: Black Women Poets and Classics”
  • Post-Lecture Reception: 7:00-7:30 pm

Location: Hunter College, 695 Park Ave., NY, NY 10065

8th floor Faculty / Staff Dining Room, Hunter West Building, 68th St. and Lexington Ave.

This event is open to the public. If you are a guest at Hunter, please bring a picture ID and stop at the Welcome Desk in the lobby of Hunter West Building, SW corner of 68th St. & Lex. (Then take the elevator to the 8th floor or the escalator to 3 and then the elevator to 8.)

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View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 10/28/2019 - 10:15am by Erik Shell.

The deadline to apply for the TLL Fellowship is November 8, 2019. The application includes many parts, and so should be started early.

Applications must be received by the deadline of Friday, November 8, 2019, at 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time. Applications should be submitted as e-mail attachments to Dr. Helen Cullyer, Executive Director, Society for Classical Studies, xd@classicalstudies.org.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 10/25/2019 - 8:15am 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 two programs that encourage audiences to look at the ancient material and traditional practices with a new lens, with a comparative and critical eye.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/25/2019 - 7:48am by .

“Causes and Causality in Aristotle and the Aristotelian Tradition”

22-24 June 2020
 

This Conference is intended to provide a formal occasion and central location for philosophers and scholars of the Midwest region (and elsewhere) to present and discuss their current work on Aristotle and his interpreters in ancient and medieval philosophy.

Presented by the Midwest Seminar in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy with the support of the Department of Philosophy at Marquette University

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 10/21/2019 - 9:26am by Erik Shell.

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