Thursday, November 14, 2013

Andrew Delbanco on the Humanities Crisis

Andrew Delbanco
Andrew Delbanco, Director of American Studies at Columbia University, says that it is time to forget about the "either/or" discourse that "pits science against humanities."  The humanities are essential, he argues, to bringing "value" to the so-called STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mary).  Here are some of the world's most pressing problems that must be solved through a combination of humanities and science:

How can the imperative of economic development be reconciled with the need to limit climate change?

What does national sovereignty mean in a world where diseases, pollutants, and terrorists cross national borders at will?

Are there universal human rights that transcend conflicting claims of particular cultural traditions

How should limited resources be distributed in order to provide opportunity and hope to young people, while treating the elderly with dignity and respect?

What are a country's obligations to refugees fleeing from persecution, poverty, or strife elsewhere?
How should we balance individual liberty and collective security?

Delbanco writes:

In answering such questions, advances in science and technology (for example, new methods of energy production, surveillance, or online learning) will have a key role to play. But moral and ethical questions never yield fully to technical solutions; they also require an understanding of humanity’s social and cultural heritage. Science can help us to attain the life we want, but it cannot teach us what kind of life is worth wanting.

In short, each side in the current education debate is half right. As human affairs become increasingly complex and morally exigent, future generations will need both scientific and humanistic learning – and they will need them more than ever.

Read the rest here.