STEM vs. The Liberal Arts: A Cultural War

Alaa El Bouzrati

No wonder there’s such a stigma around the liberal arts; it’s useless. I mean, what’s the point of analyzing the work of someone deceased? What’s the big deal about Hitler’s consolidation of power? Why do we need to know how we know what we know? Who cares!

The four disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are undoubtedly the factors of modernity. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, and Benjamin Franklin. While the list goes on, these scholars are all STEM-based, which isn’t a surprise considering these are some of the greatest minds in history. The Islamic Golden Age founded algebra, surgery, hospitals, along with Morocco establishing the first university in the world. The breakthroughs caused by the Industrial Revolution brought forth advancements such as the steam engine, the age of science and mass production, and the rise of digital technology. The architecture of the Greeks and the fields of medicine discovered by the Romans. These awakenings have transformed our modern society as the world around us has forever and fundamentally changed. Without these civilizations, would there even be a civilization? Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that STEM is far more superior and significant than the liberal arts.

But there lies a fallacy within this notion. While the most influential minds and revolutions revolved around and created STEM theories, they were among the greatest philosophers and liberal artists in their era, without exception. As a matter of fact, the most prominent universities are liberal arts institutions. It has only been during the last 70 years, where we have seen key figures who are not scholars who represent the humanities and its sphere of influence.

STEM’s essence is based on a rational, logical, and systematic approach. Those who work in STEM-focused jobs often find themselves limited in how to approach and resolve global issues. These ways of knowing and thinking often serve as a limitation because there is only one right solution. The liberal arts, on the other hand, provides us with debate, challenges our beliefs, improves our communication skills, provokes our thoughts, and encourages us to think critically. For example, the ambiguity of literature, as ironic as it may seem, can provide us with coherence and an ability to interpret ideas in various ways. Philosophy can strengthen our conscience, allowing us to develop a sense of humane values and ethics. Through the study of psychology, we can better understand each other and ourselves. We are capable of becoming more compassionate and impartial as decision-makers. Additionally, without investigating the adverse occurrences of history, we are more likely to repeat it. Without these virtues, we are unable to progress in life. With the liberal arts, the possibilities are endless.

Not to undermine colonization, but nations like India or Indonesia have embedded themselves in this so-called ‘STEM culture,’ which explains why they are still third-world countries. But what about South Korea or Japan? Indeed they are some of the most developed places since they are STEM-based. But if they are so progressive, why do they have some of the world’s highest suicide rates?

Given the STEM environments’ highly competitive nature, such employment fields are not creating profound people, but parrots. With STEM alone, it is utterly impossible to have innovators who will transform humanity. However, this is not to generalize or claim that STEM lacks the capacity for change, but rather, relies on the liberal arts to make such change. Regardless of what one wants to pursue in life, the liberal arts are essential to life. The liberal arts are the foundation of everything.