Saturday, May 25, 2013

STEM-rolling the humanities

Thomas K. Lindsay is the Director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the author of an outstanding article entitled "University-Assisted Suicide". The impetus for Lindsay's essay is a proposal by Florida Governor Rick Scott to lower tuition for STEM-related majors (science, technology, engineering, math) at Florida's public universities.  This has infuriated humanities faculty across the state who view this policy as a " “threat to the humanities” that would sacrifice education’s nobler purposes for mere job training."

Lindsay is having none of it.  He lamblasts the humanities for abdicating its role in cultivating two important characteristics of higher learning over the last half-century: civic education and intellectual freedom.  In regards to the first, Lindsay has this to say:
Universities abdicated this crucial role 50 years ago. Few colleges require even one course in American government. The Department of Education finds only one-third of undergraduates today ever complete such a course. This is more than indifference; it is aversion. Carol Schneider, president of the Association of American colleges and Universities, finds “not just a neglect of but a resistance to college-level study of United States democratic principles.[Emphasis Marc Street].
As for intellectual freedom,
But, as Allan Bloom demonstrates in The Closing of the American Mind, the humanities today deny the possibility of intellectual liberty, because they are dominated by moral relativism, which denies the existence of absolute truth. “Relativism has extinguished the real motive of education, the search for a good life.” Bloom argues that the humanities—built on the logically untenable position that the only non-relative truth is that all truth is relative—reduce reasoning about the good life to what they deem more fundamental: the will to power in the service of race, class, and gender, thus replacing Socrates’ examined life with ideological conformism.
This is a truly superb article, and I strongly recommend that you read it in its entirety, here.