The summer issue of The Classical Difference succinctly answers a question that many classical Christian parents contemplate or ask. We are bombarded by messages about the supposed need for our children to receive specific STEM instruction in order to prepare them for specific job tracks. How should we respond?
Q: We live in a STEM world. Shouldn’t we prioritize that current reality above a liberal arts education?
A: STEM is not a new pursuit but rather an acronym (first used in 2001) used to draw attention to these fields. Ironically, we can’t even agree on what fields should be included with STEM. Many acronyms have been proposed including STEAM, SHAPE, METALS, STREAM, etc. Generations of scholars have been studying STEM without the fancy wordplay.
We live in a world created by the Great Artist (rather than a “STEM world”) and the STEM fields provide a means for investigating phenomena and improving our quality of life. What it doesn’t do is help us distinguish what is good, beautiful, and true. It doesn’t help us rightly order our affections. Although science can generate a sort of mystery that draws us closer to Christ, it does not reveal why we need Christ in the first place. If education is about soul formation and not about “job training,” then the tool should not be prioritized over the mission—regardless of the perceived reality. Students need to understand STEM’s proper place.
Pragmatically, STEM doesn’t develop the ability to communicate effectively, teach students how to interact with various cultures, or develop verbal reasoning skills. STEM does not instill virtue nor cultivate a proper aesthetic. Math can demonstrate order and symbolize truths that already exist in our universe. Science reveals great wonders. Engineering allows us to mimic our Creator. The humanities provide the lens through which to view these subjects, and aid in the development of the moral standard that the STEM fields should adhere to.
Without the humanities, STEM ventures into a type of nihilistic worldview, where the scientific method becomes the determinant of truth and the endgame is to acquire more knowledge. This line of thinking is why a geneticist in China, He Jiankui, decided to use CRISPR unilaterally to edit genes without concern for the long-term consequences. STEM is a tool that allows us to peel back the layers of God’s divine creation. It was never meant to be the final step in the acquisition of knowledge and understanding; it was never meant to derive the meaning of our existence.