From as early as 1862 when the Land Grant Act in the United States granted lands to colleges specializing in agricultural and mechanical studies, the liberal arts have been undermined. It is no different today. According to Forbes, several U.S. governors, Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin, have been especially vocal recently, urging their nation to focus firmly on STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, previously SMET) and disregard liberal arts education. These public officials, including the former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, universally believe that a liberal arts degree, such as a Bachelor’s in Art History, has no place for today’s world, whereas biochemistry or computer engineering degrees serve well. Despite such opposition, liberal arts education has received support, its proponents focusing on the synergy effect when STEM and liberal arts come together.
(Photo Courtesy: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/stem-vs-liberal-studies-you-friends-jonathan-mok)
Those who lean strongly towards STEM education base their stance on two main arguments: usefulness and assurance of the STEM field. The world faces many challenging global issues such as climate change, the viral spread of diseases, and natural resource depletion. Many look to the experts in the fields of STEM such as Engineering, Finance, and Medicine, to come up with solutions to such global issues.
A paper from the Federalist, a renowned political magazine, has gone as far as stating “Science is better for society than Arts”. Those who champion STEM over liberal arts firmly believe in STEM’s usefulness, as it can potentially be the key to resolving a wide array of issues.
Then, there are those who favor STEM for what it assures in the future. Statistics alone show how easier it is to be employed if one has a background in science or engineering. Such is the case in Asia. Ever since 2013, graduates with STEM degrees from South Korean universities, including the prestigious Yonsei University, have higher employment rates than those with liberal arts degrees. There is at least 8% difference between the number of graduates employed from a STEM background and that of those from liberal arts, according to Hankookilbo, a leading South Korean vernacular newspaper. Moreover, South Korea, a nation with a mandatory military service policy for all male citizens, had provided exemptions from military service to those with outstanding STEM backgrounds before recently shutting down the policy temporarily until 2023. With all these promising benefits, every tiger mom in Asia, and the others globally too, would urge her son or daughter to be a STEM major.
The moderate players of this debate claim that people should acknowledge the rapidly emerging significance of STEM but never underestimate what liberal arts can bring to the table. Alison Byerly, the president of Lafayette College in the U.S., points out the flaws of the STEM supporters. She emphasizes the importance of liberal arts education for other types of society’s jeopardy such as international conflict and economic depression. The conclusion should be that one should not be cornered with an ultimatum and forced to choose either field of expertise. A well-rounded approach, intertwining STEM and liberal arts, is the true key to solving global issues.
(Photo Courtesy: http://www.usca.edu/mba/)
Seungjin Jordan Choi
Saint Paul Preparatory School
Seungjin Choi firstname.lastname@example.org
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