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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Precollegiate Teaching Award

College Teaching Award

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:10am by Helen Cullyer.

The Committee on Public Information and Media Relations is pleased to announce that this year's Forum Prize, for a work originating outside the academy, has been awarded to Jeff Wright for Odyssey: The Podcast.

The winner of the 2019 Society for Classical Studies Forum Prize—Jeff Wright, creator and performer of Odyssey: The Podcast—takes many turns toward and away from his illustrious epic source. Jeff’s Homer is a composite character built on the bases of English translations among the most appealing today. But Jeff is not content merely to play rhapsode to Homer’s bard.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:08am by Helen Cullyer.

The deadline for the Undergraduate Minority Scholarships is December 13.

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

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:04am by Helen Cullyer.

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 teaching Latin in a prison to collaborations with artists in theater, music, and dance. In this post we focus on a variety of programs directed to children: summer camps, classics days, after-school programs, and the creation of children-oriented animated videos.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 11/29/2019 - 1:52am by .

Registration for the Career Networking event at the 2020 Annual Meeting is now open. Graduate students and contingent faculty interested in careers outside of academia are encouraged to attend.  There is no extra charge for this event but space is limited.

Registered attendees of the 2020 meeting can sign up for this event by filling out this form. Sign up will be open until December 6th or close sooner if the event reaches capacity before that date. 

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 11/27/2019 - 12:39pm by Erik Shell.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Juliette Deschamps
The Tragedy of Dido
 
US Premiere
Friday, December 6, 2019, 7:30pm
 
Featuring acclaimed actor Gale Harold

Post-performance Q&A with Juliette Deschamps

Mixing captivating video projection, live jazz music, and powerful storytelling, The Tragedy of Dido created by French videographer Juliette Deschamps paints an extraordinary portrait of Queen Dido, the legendary founder of Carthage.

Part of A Weekend Celebration of Tunisia, the sensory and aesthetic performance will feature narration and music inspired by North African melodies performed by pianist Paul Lay. The performance will be introduced by Professor Judith P. Hallett and narrated in English by acclaimed actor Gale Harold (Falling for Grace, Queer as Folk, Grey’s Anatomy).

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Wed, 11/27/2019 - 10:44am by Erik Shell.

CfP: “Class before Capitalism?: Social Structure and the Ancient World” (Deadline: January 1, 2020)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Keynote speaker: Johanna Hanink (Brown University)

The graduate students at Harvard University’s department of the Classics invite abstract submissions for the upcoming graduate student conference, “Class before Capitalism?: Social Structure and the Ancient World”.

Socio-economic status and the intergenerational structures which maintain it have been a persistent source of tension across the world and across history. In the influential tradition of thought following Karl Marx, class has been seen as a fundamental agent of socio-political change and an inescapable force that conditions the production of literature, art, and other cultural materials. The application of ideas formed in a post-industrial, capitalist age to pre-modern societies presents some significant methodological challenges, however, and has been the source of an intense scholarly debate which continues to this day. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 11/27/2019 - 10:38am by Erik Shell.

Recogito is a software platform that facilitates annotation of text and images. Through both automatic annotation and manual annotation by users, the software links uploaded files to geographic data and facilitates the sharing and downloading of this data in various formats. The software is freely available for download through GitHub, and a version is also hosted online. In the online version, users have a private workspace as well as the ability to share documents among a group or publicly. Recogito was developed from 2013 to 2018 as part of the Pelagios network, a much wider project dedicated to creating gazetteers and tools for annotation, visualization, pedagogy, collaboration, and registering linked data.

ANNOTATION

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 11/21/2019 - 7:03pm by Kilian Mallon.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

CAMP Press Release

The SCS’ Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance (CAMP) would like to announce a change in its staged reading for the 2020 meeting in Washington D.C.  Instead of Robert Montgomery Bird’s “the Gladiator,” the committee will instead present Joseph Addison’s “Cato.”  Both plays provoke interesting discussion on the connections between American history and Classical Rome.  “Cato,” which dramatizes the stoic and patriotic Cato’s last stand against a tyrannical Julius Caesar, was quoted and alluded to by the leaders of the American Revolution, and staged by George Washington for his troops at Valley Forge in defiance of a congressional ban on plays.

Both plays and their authors are also rooted in the ideologies of their own times, ideologies which include some racist and colonialist viewpoints.  That these viewpoints have been connected with Classics as an academic field is an important element of both the history of and the contemporary challenges of our discipline.  CAMP believes that by working with and presenting such material, even when (and in fact especially when) it is problematic, we can simultaneously acknowledge the field’s entanglement with historical wrongs, and have fruitful discussions about how we can productively move forward.

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Wed, 11/20/2019 - 8:17am by Erik Shell.

Vergilian Society Call for Proposals to direct June 2021 Symposium in Italy

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 11/19/2019 - 8:54am by Erik Shell.

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