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Forest, trees and STEM debates

January 31, 2013

STEM debates focus on that old saw of liberal arts versus “hard” degrees (hard as in non-theoretical or abstract): Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

InsideHigherEd has an article, “We need more than STEM” which prompted my response that follows:

While I sympathize with Pomeranz’s basic assertions (public policy, both domestic and foreign, would be greatly informed by increased usage of academic research–I would extend this to include methods and practices), he really misses the point.

 You see that forest over there, it is composed of lots and lots of trees.  But they are not really trees; they are unemployed/underemployed liberal arts majors whose youthful idealism and enthusiasm wasn’t also informed by some basic advice on market conditions, job opportunities and a basic plan on how they would be able to provide for themselves and their emerging families post-graduation.  That is, arguing for the inclusion of the insights gleaned from an informed interrogation of historical facts into the decisions of our political leaders is a given.  I could not agree more.  But the point outlined by the administration, whose focus, properly, is more on job creation than encouraging Pomeranz’s informed policy making, reflects a desire to employ that large mass of degreed peoples.
ImageWhere should the discussion of STEM focus: on providing that mass of liberal arts graduates with a tangible, marketable skill (adjuncting is neither) that will allow the insights/tools/skills of intellectual query honed through their studies of history, literature, music, etc. to pervade the wider populace.  That is, give the poor sap a concomitant skill that will allow a living while also infusing that poor sap with the intellectual insights to make that living worth living.
Pomeranz’s call is already in place.  Public policy is being informed with the results of intellectual scrutiny (see the Kennedy School of Government and the like), ready to inform as the politicians allow.  The fact that politicians all-too-often ignore the insights of the academics is, I think, the real thorn in Pomeranz’s paw.
What is not in place is a means of providing the graduate of a Pomeranz’s field of study with a job. There are only just so many endowed chairs, even at the University of Chicago.
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