To the Editor:
I wholeheartedly agree with the report cited in “How Colleges can Help STEM Students Think More Broadly” (The Chronicle, May 9) about the need to integrate humanities into STEM curriculums.
However, I was surprised that the article did not also address the need for humanities curriculums to include STEM courses. After all, the integration of STEM and humanities works both ways.
Unfortunately, there are still liberal-arts colleges that allow students to graduate without taking any STEM courses, and yet they advertise that they are equipping the future leaders of society. While this was true back in 18th century, it has become outdated since the Industrial Revolution, which created the need for students who are equally adept at science as they are at the humanities.
I am regularly in contact with humanities graduates who do not have the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills inherent in a STEM curriculum. As a result, they are unable to develop a logical argument, much less a rational one free of emotion, or adapt to new challenges.
The reality is most of society’s problems involve both a technical and human component. Consider the Iranian Nuclear Treaty. While the public servants negotiating this treaty need a knowledge of Iranian culture, wouldn’t it be helpful if they also had an understanding of the technology required to harness nuclear energy, at least so they could communicate effectively with nuclear experts? Or how about the environmentalists who want to eliminate the petroleum industry? Wouldn’t they be taken more seriously if they had an understanding of the products petroleum has made possible?
What liberal-arts colleges need to do is require humanities students to take some basic STEM courses at a level higher than high school. For instance, a “Physics for Nonmajors” would be a good start since physics is the mother of all sciences. This course would ensure everyone has a basic understanding, and appreciation, of the science behind all the technology they use every day.
The bottom line is that the 21st century American liberal-arts graduate needs to have a minimum level of understanding of technology to complement her understanding of how humans behave.