I love a good debate, but it has been a while since I have had the opportunity to flex my “verbal discussion” muscles. Last night, an Australian friend and I got into a heated debate about the places of art and science in the worldwide educational system. She felt that there was an unfair bias towards the sciences (which I will explain in a moment) and I decided to take the position that this was a good and appropriate bias.
The debate came about because my friend was frustrated with the way her IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum was set up. The basis of her complaint was that a student majoring in the sciences could study science without studying art, whereas someone majoring in the arts (such as herself) were forced to take science classes (physics, etc). She felt that this was not fair because it represented an imbalance between the degrees.
I argued that it was important that all students participate in science classes because they represent fundamental knowledge of the the world in which we live today. Without understanding some degree of science you cannot understand the technological world in which we live. Moreover, the sciences have the greatest capacity to change tho world. Major advancements in human history have come about because of science, not because of other forms of study. This is not to belittle or demean the arts in any way… but the fact of the matter is that a painting has never cured a disease. In essence, if taking a science class has even the slightest chance to inspire a young person towards a new invention, then it is worthwhile.
My argument is that the sciences are so fundamental to the world in which we live that they should constitute an appreciable part of every complete education. From this perspective, though, it is easy to fall down the slippery slope of cutting out the arts from schools in order to meet budgets… which I also do not agree with.
Back in high school we were assigned a side to a debate and had to support that side – which, at times, meant supporting things we did not agree with like eugenics or the white man’s burden. In the case of the argument in this post, my opinion is actually that every student should have a well-rounded education. Which is to say, for example, that engineers should be forced to study writing and art – even public speaking, as the Greeks once did. All too frequently I encounter engineers in my field who cannot communicate effectively.
Moreover, as many others have pointed out, only by studying the mistakes of those before us (history) can we avoid them in the future. Eugenics is actually a perfect example of what happens when we have a society too devoted to the sciences without thinking about the human repercussions. When put simply, it is very easy for even very smart people to be taken in by the idea of eugenics because does appear (at first) to be so well-based in science. If you are not familiar with the movement, check out the YouTube video below.
I think it is a shame that so many schools are removing music and other creative pursuits from their curricula, as these skills undoubtedly lead towards creativity. In essence, science is the foundation upon which innovation is born (because it represents the truths and laws of the universe), but the other disciplines are what build upon this foundation to actually create something.