Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Humanities & Arts to the Rescue of Science

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Humanities & Arts to the Rescue of Science

Article excerpt

Abstract

The future of science may depend on how education responds to the growing negativism that students and the public show towards science. What is the value of our current teaching methods, if in helping students achieve higher test scores, they also generate a life long disdain of science? Achieving a positive attitude towards science must become a major objective of all future teaching methods if we are to reverse the current trend. We can accomplish this by bridging the divide of the Two Cultures that C. P. Snow warned us about, using an innovative method that integrates science with relevant elements from the humanities and the arts. An art gallery can be used effectively as an extension of a science classroom. When properly analyzed, a theater or dance performance, a painting, a novel, a poem, or a film, can enrich and reinforce a science concept beyond traditional lab exercises. When elements of history of science are integrated appropriately in the curriculum, they humanize what is otherwise perceived as a dry, mechanical and impersonal discipline. The author will describe the many benefits and limitations, as well as unexpected discoveries that he has made in his experience with this method.

Introduction

The 20th century is considered by many as the most active period in human history, not only in terms of exploration, discovery and change, but sadly also through war and destruction. This was also a century that witnessed the fastest growth in specialization, a professional quality that is an essential precondition to modern advancements. The spectacular innovations in science, medicine, and technology were made possible through the hard work and creative imagination of specialists and thinkers within a narrow discipline and focused onto specific challenges. But specialization has its shortcomings, as articulated by C. P. Snow, who raised the issue more than fifty years ago. In his 1955 classic essay The Two Cultures, C. P. Snow warned us about the dangers of specialization that can lead to an intellectual polarization or division between the cultures of those in science and those in the humanities.

But what exactly were the dangers that Snow warned us about? One of these dangers has a political flavor. Most politicians are educated in fields outside of science, which can be a serious handicap in government affairs. Snow wrote (1)

"It is dangerous to have two cultures which can't or don't communicate. In a time when science is determining much of our destiny, that is whether we live or die, it is dangerous in the most practical terms. Scientists can give bad advice and decision-makers can't know whether it is good or bad. All this makes the political process more complex, and in some ways more dangerous ..."

This problem becomes a perpetuator of poverty in underdeveloped countries whose government officials may have little understanding of science and technology. Snow considers the application of science and technology as a prerequisite for the economic advancement of any country. He nearly reflected his concerns in the title of his book (2)

"Before I wrote the lecture I thought of calling it "The Rich and the Poor", and I rather wish that I hadn't changed my mind. The scientific revolution is the only method by which most people can gain the primal things (years of life, freedom from hunger, survival for children)--the primal things which we take for granted and which have in reality come to us through having had our own scientific revolution not so long ago."

To Snow, much of the blame for the creation of these two cultures lies in our educational systems. Although the isolation of the cultures of science and humanities are caused by educational systems, Snow is more critical of those in the humanities for failing to understand science rather than those in the sciences who don't know the humanities. He wrote (3)

"Once or twice I have been provoked by people who consider themselves highly educated. …

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