Nvate Commentary: Do the Humanities and Arts Have a Place in STEM?

Zoha Syed

“It’s not rocket science!”

How often have you heard that phrase when faced with a confusing, difficult, outright challenging task? And of course the term “rocket science” is interchangeable. It could be brain surgery, quantum physics or any other field that has a connotation of being just plain mindboggling. Yet the connecting thread remains—outright difficult fields in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM.

As technology and education have progressed, the United States is seeing more and more of an emphasis on math and science as the race to “catch up” with other nations on an international scale becomes more and more cutthroat. In schools today, a myriad of science classes from chemistry to marine biology are available at a student’s disposal while technology-centric classes are not only encouraged but often are a graduation requirement.

But where does that leave the humanities and the arts? Though the focus seems to be shifting toward a society of science brainiacs and math wizards, I believe that the humanities and the arts are still active disciplines that are not quick to dissipate over the reason of “practicality.”

It was reported by Yahoo News that the average student has consistently performed better on the math portion of the SAT scoring 514 out of 800. Yet at the same time, the section where students’ performance falters is in writing where the average was only 488 out of 800. Though these results seem discouraging, they should come as no surprise. With the career-focused nature that school curriculums often champion, it makes sense that performance would become better on sections that are deemed “valuable” and career-wise such as math and science.

“It seems to be all about career [education],” Jordan Swain, an art teacher at Redmond High school in Washington, said. “Now, I am CTE certified and my photo classes have to have some elements of ‘technology and practical career’ in order to get funding.”

And sure it’s safe to say that science and math fields continue to stay in demand. The New York Daily News reported that by the year 2020 over 123 million jobs will open up in the STEM field. If school serves as that stepping stone toward a successful career, it would justify why many seem to push upon students this notion that science is a student’s ticket to the future.

Though, it often serves as the rationale behind why students are often pushed in a more tech-based direction, it fails to take into account a vital part of any learning process: the pursuit of knowledge. In whatever field an individual ultimately decides to stick with, they are expected to commit a part of themselves to its study. And this is the very foundation of why the humanities and arts will continue to prevail regardless of the overshadowing they might experience in the career-centric society we live in. This serves as the reason why humanities and arts will continue to go hand-in-hand with science and math—all four constitute disciplines where an individual may spend an immense amount of time exploring and garnering an understanding of the world around them through different lenses.

“I believe that once a more wholly educated society is born, a balance between humanities and the sciences will be achieved,” Conrad Kisunzu, a student at Stanford University, said. “I believe that the arts and humanities will not die out as a major simply because I have found that my peers are truly passionate in what they’re studying and as long as there are people with an innate interest in these fields, they will continue to survive.”

Though the rapid pursuit of science and math will continue to occur on the notion that these disciplines will lead to job stability, it’s ignorant to discount the benefits of the humanities and the arts in the process. All four disciplines rely upon one another and are bolstered by this underlying thread of exploration. The humanities and arts, just like science and math, make up a creative realm that an individual may study to their heart’s content.

It’s time that career practicality is given the back seat, and learning—or the sake of learning—is emphasized once more.

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