I am very happy for scientists to promote science education. I have been a fan of the ABC’s Science Show since Robyn Williams started broadcasting 41 years ago. I am excited by modern technology, and am happy to use its latest tools and gadgets.
Science education can achieve what is claimed for it: clarity of thought based on evidence and the ability to evaluate and patiently work through new ideas.
“The benefits of learning about science for young kids are enormous, says Kevin Squires, a teacher at Tamworth Public [School in NSW] who is employed especially to teach science at the school.
“Science involves a lot of talking and listening to others; it develops patience, too – a lot of the time in science things don’t happen overnight,” he says.
Add to the mix are skills for life such as perseverance, problem-solving and researching.” 1
My problem with this advocacy is not that it isn’t true, but that it implies that education in the humanities does not provide students with equally powerful thinking skills.
I spent a total of 10 years in tertiary education in the humanities. The courses (French Studies, Theology and Religious Education) may seem to have little in common, but the theme running through all my University studies was the close analysis of texts. Whether those texts were the Bible or Madame Bovary they all taught me how to use the evidence of words and ideas to gain insight in human behaviour.
The key to success in the humanities, like science, is drawing conclusions from evidence.
Studying languages and what people have written in them has many benefits for young people. Like science, language and literature develop patience because maturity and life experience will add to the meaning of texts. Like science, studying languages and texts develops puzzle-solving skills. Like science, the humanities develop a focus on the evidence. The humanities help students uncover human motivation and foster empathy. They give information and human context about other human cultures and faiths.
It seems to me that the study of humanities, perhaps even more than the study of military theory, can contribute to the bringing about of world peace. It can certainly equip young people to be better husbands and wives, lovers and parents.
Yes, studying science opens up exciting worlds and our world need scientists. But we need people who can read the human heart as well.