The humanities make us human. This phrase may rub people the wrong way, but it remains true, even if we do not like it. The humanities or liberal arts as they are also called, while not as exciting as other subject areas, remains a key area, especially for a country as young as Jamaica.
The liberal arts have, for some time, been left with the proverbial short end of the stick and one can’t help but think the demonization and abandoning of the liberal arts are part of a master plan to destroy the very things which make us human.
Now, I do hear and somewhat agree with the argument that the focus only on the liberal arts will land a person in the unemployment line; how many trained historians work in the field, for example? However, the arts represent much more than that.
Despite the importance of the arts, the Government has chosen to focus strictly on STEM subjects, contradicting an earlier statement that the arts would be included, transforming STEM to STEAM subjects.
STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, has been hailed as the area of the future, an area people will have to be skilled in if they are to work in the new world emerging before us.
As the world becomes more reliant on technology and advanced devices, it is correctly assumed that children of today must be trained in the area if they are not to be left behind as the world advances. This much is obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention to the technology that has emerged over the past 10 years.
It is great that Jamaica is embracing STEM. It will be a boon for the nation if we have people who are masters of the STEM fields who are staying in the country to build it and fulfil the promise we once showed. It is great that we are focusing on these areas, but the failure to incorporate the Arts/Humanities is a huge mistake that will come back to haunt us if we do not change it now.
However, the focus on STEM subjects is not a bed of roses and could very well destroy a trait of Jamaicans if it is pursued in the same vein.
The STEM subjects, with all due respect, while important will be at best useless and at worst abusive if they are taught with no focus on the arts and humanities.
But why should attention be given to the arts and humanities if the primary focus is to create a people more comfortable with STEM? That question, which is very important, can be answered simply, even if it rubs people the wrong way.
From a standpoint overtly in favour of STEM we can see where arts and humanities are needed. Game developers, who we are supposedly promoting, need the humanities to craft and create games. Program developers create applications that are accessible to those who are disabled.
Technology is neutral, anyone who reads science fiction or looks at the world around us can attest to that. Birth control is neutral, a thing which can be used for positives like empowering women, or it can be wielded as a weapon, as a tool of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
If we are to create a society and people beyond book smart, then we must move from STEM and introduce STEAM. STEM subjects, if we are being crass, allow you to understand that people do not live by bread alone. STEAM, that is the addition of the liberal arts, allows us to understand that though people don’t live by bread alone an onerous tax on bread will lead to riots.
The humanities and liberal arts were at one point coupled with STEM subjects, people of a certain vintage who studied abroad at LSE or SOAS can attest to this, and not by coincidence was the region blessed with intellectual titans who could use that opportunity to not only implement policies/teach, but also view how it affects the people and to change accordingly.
We need the arts and humanities; we need them if only to save us from the bureaucrats who insist there cannot be change or that change is only possible at a slow pace. This is a lie, something the rich understand well and is a reason the humanities remain important at their colleges and universities.
As the world and technology advance, coupled with the impact of climate change, the bureaucrat will take centre stage. The bureaucrat does not care how society is impacted only that his/her goals are achieved. This callous, cold-hearted thinking is what awaits not only Jamaica, but all countries that have put a focus on STEM subjects to the detriment of the humanities and arts.
The only way to guard against robotic thinking void of empathy is through the arts and humanities. Hopefully, we realize this before it is too late.