Response to 'Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school' by Mark Slouka - Journal of Omnifarious
Sep. 28th, 2009
11:27 am - Response to 'Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school' by Mark Slouka
This is a response to this article: "Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school" by Mark Slouka. Initially I'm going to be tossing ideas against a wall because I feel his argument is broken in several different respects. Later I intend to try to go back to edit it to be more coherent. Or, at least, that's my intention right now. :-)
In his article he talks about how the humanities are being consistently and constantly dissed in favor of science and math education in our schools. He thinks this is a bad thing. I think he's right about the dissing, but I partially disagree that it's a bad thing, and I definitely disagree about why it's happened.
In my opinion, the humanities have almost completely failed us. Starting sometime in the 30s the humanities became utterly derailed into a self-congratulatory circle of rarified academics almost completely disconnected from reality. I cite as evidence things like the post-modern paper generator which generates output I largely find indistinguishable from the academic output of the humanities.
I also cite the modern fiction that receives critical acclaim by fellow academics in the club. It almost universally says nothing of substance while telling us we're all idiots for leading the lives we lead or having the values we have. Reading 'White Noise by Don DeLillo is like sitting on the porch with an imaginative and lively old coot who loves pointing at people on the street and telling you just how silly their fashions are. Amusing, but ultimately pointless. And in so doing, it helps create the very intellectual fashions it then proceeds to make fun of. Like Andy Warhol's soup can, its real art is in getting us to take a picture of a soup can seriously as a piece of high art.
Meanwhile, other academics in the club are telling us that science is just a social construction and the things we observe are simply a product of our cultural perspective and don't have any objective reality at all.
And he wonders why nobody takes the humanities seriously. It doesn't even take itself serioulsy. It lost its connection to reality ages ago. For all of Mr. Slouka's vaunting of the humanities ability to gives us the tools to evaluate our values he seems to miss that the main point of the academic branch of the humanities seems to be that there are no values worth having.
I do think his criticism of valuing education as a means to create people who will be valuable workers for modern corporation is spot on. But the problem is that we have no more values left. They've all been deconstructed out of existence by the very field he thinks would save us. If we cling to math and science it's because they at least admit there are at least some answers that are better than others.
He feels that one of the jobs of education is to create people who challenge popular thinking. I don't think he's wrong. But the problem is that all the major challenges to popular thinking I know of have come from the hacker community. A bunch of extremely creative scientists an engineers. They are the ones getting in legal trouble for saying stuff nowadays.
All the really heated debates in which ideas about what we should be building and why are flung back and forth and tortured until they crack in those communities. Mostly in modern journalism, that bastion of the humanities, I see a failure to understand and consequent disinformation and stupidity that further perpetuates the problem. The humanities has treated science as a red-headed stepchild, distasteful and embarrassing for its insistence in a testable objective reality. The consequent explosion of ignorance and inability to evaluate the products of the engines of science and technology are the predictable result.