Losing the arts means losing ourselves

Tina Haapala |

I have always found Wichita Falls, Texas, where I have lived for about 23 years now, to be open to outsiders as long as they roll up their sleeves and get to work. When I first got here, one of the first community-oriented activities I was involved in was a meeting the school district was having to ascertain what the business community needed them to teach. I imagine I got the invitation since I was the director of training at a manufacturing plant at the time.

One thing that seemed to be the consensus was that we needed to increase math, science, and technology. Doing so would leave less room for electives, especially those in the arts. The memory sticks with me because I agreed with it, and I was very wrong.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria detailed his opinion of why America’s obsession with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is dangerous (hint: that’s the name of the article if you want to Google it). To quote Zakaria, “Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy.” And to quote his quote of Steve Jobs (who I think we can agree was a tech guy), “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

In my own life, I credit the readings I did in junior high school in the area of fiction and history for getting me through that very awkward time of life. In high school I passed math and science, but was drawn to school each day because of music and journalism.

My military service had me operating and maintaining submarine nuclear propulsion plants and teaching others how to do the same. But it was religious and philosophy discussions, music and literature that occupied our undersea social life. Yes, we worked on and lived in a technological marvel that demanded the highest abilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But the human part of the equation needed the ingredients that we identify with a liberal arts curriculum.

Neither Zakaria nor I are recommending steering people away from a bio-tech degree into English lit or art appreciation. I am saying that in addition to understanding how electrical current flows in a semi-conductor or calculating the most efficient curve to create less aerodynamic drag, learning how to express a mood through poetry and music or debating your point with prose both written and spoken create a more rounded human. It also frees the student from a myopic skill set that can be left behind as technology advances. And although I have to understand complex formulas and equations to more fully understand where your money is going, all money questions inherently have deeper emotional questions tied to them.

Teach the tech because it makes life easier; teach the humanities because we are human.

Interested in learning more about the importance of the liberal arts? Zakaria just released a book: In Defense of a Liberal Education, that’s probably worth a read.

This article was published under the title "Arts still vital in tech space" in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on April 12, 2015.