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Fact Versus Fiction: What Should Dominate Education?

It is a bright, sunny day and the children of the local elementary school are out at recess. Many are running about on the playground equipment, but there are the select few that are in a corner, curled up with their favorite new book. Suddenly the tweet of the whistle brings everyone back to reality, time for math class. Some of the children quickly skip inside, excited for their studies, while the rest groan and sluggishly walk inside. Later that evening, two scenarios play out at home. The child reading during recess is slowly, but dutifully doing his math homework, complaining to his mother about how he hates math and doesn’t feel that math is important. Meanwhile, the child that sped inside for math class is complaining about how long his reading assignment is going to take and how math is the only thing that should be taught at school. This theme seems to be becoming ever more popular, even among teachers and politicians. If asked what type of education is best some will reply that math and science needs to be pushed in the class room, while others will reply that clearly the push needs to be in education of the humanities. However, the two polar sides couldn’t be more wrong. While our world is progressing more towards a math and science lifestyle, which is leading to a more math and science centered education, the best education includes the humanities also.

The extreme education ridiculed in Hard Times consists only of facts and is beginning to reflect America’s education. Hard Times begins with an introduction to Mr. Gradgrind’s education system. Mr. Gradgrind begins, “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life” (Dickens 5). As it turns out, his education system leads to the emotional ruin of his daughter, Lousia, which is reflected at the end of the story: “Herself a wife- a mother- lovingly watchful of her children, ever careful that they should have a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body, as knowing it to be even a more beautiful thing… Such a thing was never to be” (Dickens 222). Unfortunately for the Gradgrinds they realize how detrimental an all factual education could be to a child too late. America’s education system is getting closer and closer to becoming this detrimental education with more and more requirements in the “factual” subjects, math and science.

People are pushing for a math and science centered education or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education (“Reform for the Future”). STEM education consists of a great amount of facts, and little amounts of humanities. While the intentions for this education system are good, the after effects may be detrimental to not only students, but also to society. The current high school requirements for Indiana require three years of both math and science to graduate (“Indiana Core 40”). Michigan also requires three years of science but adds an extra year of math (“Michigan”). While both these states require four years of English and some education in a foreign language (“Indiana Core 40”; “Michigan”), one must wonder how long these core courses will stay when STEM is being pushed so strongly.

However hope is not lost. Dickens writes, “But happy Sissy’s happy children loving her; all children loving her; grown learned in childish lore; thinking no innocent and pretty fancy ever to be despised; trying hard to know her humbler fellow-creatures, and beautify their lives with machinery and reality with those imaginative graces and delights…” (222). Sissy was able to be happy and inevitably successful for the times. If America changes its thinking now, then America too will be successful, and not just the type of success Sissy enjoyed. If we use all of our minds, both the factual and the imaginative parts, then America will move forward with success in both the technology and in becoming a happier people.

The U.S. economy is primarily driven by technical innovation (Geer and Halisky), therefore students need a stressed math and science education. Representative George Miller, Chair of the House Education and Labor, reports: “It is increasingly clear that building a world class education system that provides students with a strong foundation in math and science must be part of any meaningful long-term economic recovery strategy” (qtd. in Ramirez). Furthermore, the White House remarked on how beginning to build a world-class education system will spring the American economy into the future (“Reform for the Future”). The belief is that if STEM education is continually pushed, students will be better equipped with the skills needed for the 21st century lifestyle, allowing America to be more competitive in the global market (Ramirez).

Asia is quickly springing ahead both academically and economically. Yet, this comes as no surprise. In Asia, math and science education starts early and becomes the core curriculum in secondary education (Desai). The early introduction to these subjects allows students to be better prepared for the technical world around them. Since higher test scores correlate directly with higher incomes (Desai), this also puts Asia ahead economically. It seems that America is just slowly slipping behind, like a runner slowly falling off the pace of the leaders. Our current structure of education allows schools to teach to the test and doesn’t prepare students in other areas (Ramirez). By pushing STEM education, the U.S. should quickly be able to surge to the top again (“Reform for the Future”). Math and science needs to take a primary position in this technical age if the United States wants to keep up with its competitors.

While math and science must have a primary position in education, if the U.S. really wants to be at the top of education, the humanities must have a deep part in education as well. Studying the humanities makes people more pleasant than just studying math and science alone. Professor Robert Crews of Stanford University states, “Humanist study prepares students to become citizens of the world.” (qtd in McGirr) As a citizen of the world, one must learn to view the world differently. One such way to learn this is by reading. Writer Karen Armstrong says, “A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest” (qtd. in Tierney). Going beyond one’s own self-interest leads one to the understanding of the bigger picture and leads to a happier life.

Charles Darwin once wrote, “The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness and may possibly be injurious to the intellect and more probably to the moral character by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature… if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week” (Darwin). Even a great scientist such as himself realized the need to be a well-rounded person.

Being a well-rounded person doesn’t just lead to happiness, it can lead to a great multitude of opportunities in life. Dr. Allen Hersel, former Chemical Engineering chair at Trine University and Humanities Institute Board member, claims: “Being well rounded is the number one thing to help you move up in a company… Communication is key” (Hersel). Humanistic studies create a well-rounded person which includes communication skills. Communication is critical in any situation and especially when working in a company. Since 99% of all people will be working at some point in their lives, humanities and communication definitely are critical skills.

Our current approach to both the humanities and STEM education needs to be changed. It can’t be lopsided in either direction. Linda H. Halisky of the College of Liberal Arts at Cal Poly suggests, “It is the cooperation and interplay of the liberal arts with vocation-specific training, as it turns out, that has the most promise” (Geer and Halisky). People are too focused on being better at math and science or being better at liberal arts. In reality, the push should be for learning math and science with an increased learning in the humanities. College education is becoming increasingly more important but only leads to too much debt and not enough skill. This has to change.

While change needs to come in the form of curriculum change, it also has to come in the form of attitude. No one ever said that all classes will be easy. For instance, the brilliant math major may be failing his English course, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have to take it. He should work hard at it and will become a better, well-rounded person because of it. Dr. Hersel stated, “It’s a misnomer that ‘I’m not an English person.’ Everyone needs to work to be good at everything” (Hersel). If the general population has a better attitude towards humanities and STEM working together, then students may be more willing to become the well-rounded people they need to become to succeed in this technical world.

Math and science is an ever growing part of our world, but to be a successful person one must have knowledge of the humanities, too. The children on the playground may not realize the importance of the math and reading they are learning at such a young age. The child that loves math may become a brilliant engineer, and the child that was reading in a corner may become a world-renowned writer, but the child that truly succeeds will be the child that learns to embrace all sorts of education. That child, like Sissy, will be the one that will be the happiest and most successful.

Works Cited

Darwin, Charles. Atrophy of Imagination in a Scientist from The Autobiography of Charles
Darwin in Charles Dickens Hard Times. A Norton Critical Edition: 3rd Edtition. New
York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd. 2001. Print. Page 333.

Desai, Vishaka N. “The U.S. Must Start Learning from Asia.” CNN Opinion. 07 December 2010.
Web. 05 November 2012.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. A Norton Critical Edition: 3rd Edition. New York: W.W. Norton
& Company Ltd. 2001. Print.

Geer, Robert E. and Linda Halisky. “College Grads Need Skills, Not Liberal Arts.” Bloomberg
Businessweek. Web. 05 November 2012.

Hersel, Dr. Allen. Personal Interview. 12 November 2012

“Indiana Core 40.” Indiana Department of Education. Web. 15 November 2012

McGirr, Samantha. “Standford Launches Effort to Increase Study of Humanities.” The Standford
Daily. 19 April 2011. Web. 05 November 2012.

“Michigan Merit Curriculum: High School Graduation Requirements.” Michigan Department of
Education. Web. 15 November 2012.

Ramirez, Eddy. “Study: U.S. Trails Asian Countries in Math and Science.” U.S. News.
09 December 2008. Web. 05 November 2012.

“Reform for the Future.” Whitehouse.gov. Web. 05 November 2012.

Tierney, Dr. Tom. “What Reading Literature Can Do for You.” January 2011. Print.