Visitors take a train ride at the re-opening of Hagerstown’s City Park Train Hub on Saturday
Hagerstown City Park Train Hub held a re-opening on Saturday with train rides on Tommy 202.
Sherry Greenfield, The Herald-Mail
In the three subjects I teach at the local college, i.e., philosophy, world religions and ethics, I begin the semester’s classes with these words: “Students, if you have enrolled in this course to learn how to do, create or fix something, then you will probably be disappointed. However, before you consider exiting this learning opportunity in the humanities, let me forcefully say: “A sincere engagement in the elements a philosophy course advances (also world religions or ethics) will greatly assist you in the career you select or have selected and will be far more important than you may now realize. My hope and bet are that you will complete this learning experience better understanding how to navigate the world you now know and the one that awaits. Bon voyage.’”
With admitted prejudice, I happen to believe that liberal arts courses are central, not secondary, if real education is to happen. Period. And this, by no means, is to disparage or claim betterment of one curriculum over another. Education requires all curriculums to be in concert with the other, providing a kind of symphony that the world needs to hear and have.
Education’s navigation through the past 15 months could never have happened without the acumen STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) knowledge provided. Technology scored mightily during the pandemic, helping education functionally plow through truncated times. Technology’s online teaching assistances, already known and used, merited greater use when our schools and colleges had to shut down in-person, classroom studies because of COVID-19. And let us not forget science’s major victory, the vaccines, which have won and are still winning. Hats off to STEM education that kept us connected, even in ways that were non-traditional, odd and strained.
As this functional side of learning deserves much praise, it has a much-needed counterpart, i.e., humanities and the liberal arts. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant recognized that while “science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life.” Knowing how to do something needs help in discerning the landscape that will hold what is to be done. Yes, education is not only a functional operative but a relational engagement as well. The philosophical skills of critical thinking, the knowledge gained from world religion studies that convey the diversity of cultures, and the moral acumen ethics courses promote are vital studies all curriculums should include.
Columnist Tim Rowland insightfully wrote about STEM some months ago and noted that we have substituted courses in the arts and humanities for the pleasure of those who wish more money and get-ahead-in-the-world opportunities. Rowland implied that this de-emphasis on the humanities side of education may have contributed to our social implosion and the subsequent cultural polarization causing politics to become so damnably sordid. The arts and humanities are about helping Homo sapiens understand the world and not to merely survive and flourish economically. Real education is learning how to live rightly in the world and should not be totally defined in economic terms.
Not long ago the president of Johns Hopkins referenced a student trying to decide what to take in a given semester. The student decided to take a practical course rather than one the humanities offered. He mused that “enlightenment” would have to wait, for employability and getting a job was paramount. Unfortunately, we have interpreted a division between our curriculums of learning, rather than advanced a partnership between them. Sadly, the humanities are often seen as sidebar disciplines, learnings that are optional, non-essential, and not the real meal one needs for nourishment.
I take issue with curriculums that relegate the liberal arts to the basement of learning. I sincerely believe having a good job is important and that economic well-being is worthy. However, real education includes life-learning along with job learning.
Let us make these great disciplines, i.e., STEM and the liberal arts partners that advance the quality of human life and not just its functionality and economic questing.
Don Stevenson is an adjunct instructor of philosophy, world religion and ethics at Hagerstown Community College and is a retired, part-time minister of the United Church of Christ. His email address is [email protected]