One week ago, the staff of the Harvard Crimson ran an editorial embracing a new trend in higher education—the growing number of students choosing to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) fields over the humanities. “Let them eat code” is currently the top-read article on the Crimson’s website, with 80 comments as of press time. The editorial applauds students who choose these more “rigorous” fields, characterizing the knowledge and skills gained through study of these disciplines as more practical in our ultra-competitive economy. Scholars in the humanities, they write, are of little importance because with or without them, people will still have access to literature, music and philosophy.
“Why spend four years listening to lecturers warn you that you can never really know anything?” asks the piece. We can’t help but note that this is neither an unenlightening nor a novel concept; Socrates argued that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
And while we do not believe that four years spent reading Woolf and Hume and Shakespeare is a waste of time, the strength of a liberal arts education is, in part, its breadth. Bowdoin’s new Digital and Computational Studies Initiative proves that the two disciplines are not mutually exclusive; for one final project in the inaugural Gateway to the Digital Humanities class, two students are learning code to build a website that archives the history of art at the College. These classes prove that the disciplines are not only valuable in and of themselves but as complements to one another.
Institutions like Harvard and Bowdoin value learning for learning’s sake. We wonder how the Crimson’s editorial staff managed to overlook this reality in favor of this strange utilitarian and functionalist position.
Every year, students graduate from Bowdoin with degrees in English and Religion and Psychology. Somehow, few of them are homeless; most of them have jobs. These degrees do translate into marketable skills, but we feel that in choosing a liberal arts college we are opting for an education that provides us with more than just a job at the end.
In exploring both the sciences and the humanities we gain skills for life as well as skills for work, in the process reminding ourselves that the two are not always the same. Only the most robotic among us would reduce every class to the value it adds to one’s future earning potential, or assert that academic inquiry into art and literature adds nothing of value—quantifiable or otherwise—to a life.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Claire Aasen, Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Marisa McGarry, Eliza Novick-Smith, Sam Miller and Sam Weyrauch.