"In these classes, our students learn how individuals, organizations, and nations act on their desires and concerns...They learn that most human situations defy a single correct answer, that life itself is rarely, if ever, as precise as a math problem, as clear as an elegant equation."
So writes MIT Professor of History Technology and Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Deborah K. Fitzgerald. In a very passionate opinion piece in the Boston Globe last week, she strongly defended and outlined the necessity of humanities in every student's education.
MIT is focused not on creating cookie-cutter graduates who all have taken the same STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) courses for four years and only know the formulas and equations they learned in those classes. They learn these things and how to apply them in the real world. They learn how to think critically about problems by taking STEM classes in conjunction with History, Philosophy and Music courses.
"The world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale, and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply felt cultural traditions to building codes to political tensions. So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities — the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence — as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences."
And their approach continues to receive testimony from alumni in fields such as the sciences, engineering and entrepreneurship about how essential these courses were for them and why they have helped alumni succeed after graduation:
"One recent graduate who went on to medical school wrote about how her practice as a physician requires not only medical knowledge, but also the ability to interpret her patients’ accounts and stories — a skill she gained reading literature, studying the various forms of narrative, the many ways humans share vital information. 'MIT biology prepared me for medicine,' she says. 'Literature prepared me to be a doctor.'"
MIT is known around the world as a leader in technological progression and advancement. Some of the most revolutionary and world-changing research has come from within their walls, and they are fervent that their students should spend 25% of their education outside of a laboratory studying the humanities, learning a language, or doing something to increase their knowledge of the world as a whole. They aren't trying to produce engineers with a 4.0 GPA: they are developing minds who understand engineering as it relates to the world and know how to apply this knowledge to benefit it.
Students need more than just a thorough education in their future field of study. They need have perspective on the world we live in, leadership skills to inspire and help other succeed, and an internal desire to innovate and instigate change, and they use the humanities to develop and hone these skills.
She ends her article warning about complacency: while we try to separate, categorize and divide up the world, we have to remember that all things are connected, and those who can maintain and create those connections.
"For while we as educators may, for good and practical reasons, divide the spectrum of knowledge into various categories, the mind itself is the original polymath — drawing on diverse, and often surprising, sources as it goes about the wondrous work of making fresh connections, and laying down new pathways for thought, discernment, and action."