C. S. Lewis once said that education without values makes us into “more clever devils.” Here’s why that’s so.
We’ve all seen the studies showing that students in America are falling behind in STEM subjects—STEM is shorthand for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—and many in education and government are freaking out. The STEM Education Coalition warns that 60 percent of employers are having a hard time finding qualified workers, and that of 65 education systems worldwide, American students rank only 27th in math and 20th in science.
“STEM education must be elevated as a national priority,” the group recommends. “Our nation’s future economic prosperity,” they say, “is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields.”
I agree. This is a serious matter. But what about our moral and ethical security? Many in academia and government in these budget-cutting times are joining the stampede to emphasize STEM education at the expense of the humanities. And Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria says that’s short-sighted. “Technical chops are just one ingredient needed for innovation and economic success,” Zakaria says. “No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write.” Studies show that subjects such as literature, philosophy, and ethics actually improve STEM performance! Truly, man does not live by math alone.
While STEM subjects are necessary to our national well-being, subjects such as history, philosophy, the arts, and, yes, theology—which, after all, used to be known as “the queen of the sciences”—are vital to our spiritual well-being. While the former can provide us with facts and information, the latter supply us with meaning and wisdom.
As my friend John Stonestreet said on The Point, “No country will benefit from a citizenry that’s technically skilled but unable to wrestle with life’s biggest questions. STEM may give us cheaper computer chips, but only the humanities can tell us what to do with them.”
Here are four great questions that our friend Chuck Colson said that everyone must ask: Where did I come from? What’s wrong with the world? Is there a solution? What is my purpose?
The sciences can tell us what is, but not what should be. Look—STEM is great, even vital, but science and technology can’t give us purpose, values, and real significance. Lewis warned that modern education was making us into “men without chests”—people who are all intellect and passion, but without the values necessary to regulate their desires.
So let me suggest that we supplement the gaps in our modern education system with a more “chest-focused” approach.
Of course, religious education at church and home is critical. But also get involved in your local private, and yes, even public schools. Make sure that students are being asked the big questions: What is true, beautiful, and good? You might want to consider a classical Christian school for your child if there’s one in your area.
And make sure your children are reading books—good books, classics appropriate to their age. And don’t forget biographies of people who mattered, who made a difference. I just happen to know someone who wrote a couple of good ones on Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce!
And while you’re at it, take your kids to a good art gallery.
Do you have college students? Check out their classes. Encourage your young engineer-to-be to take a philosophy course or one on Shakespeare!
Yes. By all means. Let’s make sure our kids can do math and science. But may we never focus on STEM subjects to the exclusion of what makes education human: the humanities. The ought, not just the is.
Further Reading and Information
Man Does not Live by Math Alone: Education Is More than STEM
An education that does not exclude but incorporates the humanities leads to people better equipped to use their STEM expertise in wise and meaningful ways. Click on the resources linked below for further commentary on the STEM issue.
Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous
Fareed Zakaria | Washington Post | March 26, 2015
Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English
Jenny Anderson | qz.com | March 19, 2016
Stemming the STEM Obsession
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint.org | April 4, 2016
Two-Minute Warning: Answering Four Questions
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint.org | April 2011
STEM Education Coalition
Available at the online bookstore
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Eric Metaxas | HarperOne | November 2007
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Eric Metaxas | Thomas Nelson Inc| August 2011