The Humanities and STEM

In a recent New York Times editorial, David Brooks asserts that despite the current need for science and technology, “the humanities are in crisis at the exact moment history is revealing how vital moral formation really is.” He suggests that while science is “producing the vaccines, the humanities [are] stocking leaders and citizens with capacities of resilience, care and collaboration until they come.” 

This got me thinking of why Mass Insight’s AP program includes English in what is otherwise a STEM-focused initiative. When I joined Mi as the English Content Director, I understood that college literacy skills would help students succeed in their STEM courses. What matters more, however, is that how we express our understanding of people and problems is relevant in both the literary and technological world. 

In teaching rhetoric, we focus on the exigence of a situation in the process of analysis. We need to know the back story before we can dive into the what and so what of an argument or situation. So it is in science. AP science and math students are asked open-ended questions to explain their process of problem solving. Students are asked to demonstrate their mastery of complex topics not only by knowing the steps but by explaining the back story. 

Whether they get the “right” answer is not always as valuable as the steps they take to get there. The process reflects their ability both to think critically and to risk delving into the complexity of a problem whether it be to determine a character’s motivation or to find the derivative of a mathematical function. 

Studying the humanities allows us to learn from the past, to listen closely and to debate, to express ourselves clearly, to empathize and appreciate the back story so that we can move forward.  By including AP English in our STEM focused work, we help our future scientists also become the citizens and leaders so needed in the world today.   

Sally Guadagno

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