STEM Students Without the Humanities’ Roots Fail to Thrive

Education Should Not be Reduced to Trend-Sensitive Skills Training


Current distinctions between STEM (science technology, engineering & mathematics) and both the “liberal arts” and humanities are affective in educational policy and practice decisions of late. I placed the “liberal arts” in quotes because the current dichotomy with STEM is an artifact of the historically recent severing of the STEM disciplines from the classical liberal arts. The Liberal Arts were, in one historical framing of education, a unity with discernable aspects or areas, before being seemingly combined and divided into the Trivium and the Quadrivium in Latin. These liberal arts are traceable back to the ancient Greeks’ educational approach of Paideia, with Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic being identified in Plato’s writings that came to be called the Trivium later. These core critical thinking about the components of perceptional arts were common to and foundational to what came to be called the Quadrivium consisting of the basic kinds of perceived as numerable things: Arithmetic, basic to all quantifiables, Geometry, dealing with space, Music, dealing with time (and unseen order, or logos), and Astronomy or Cosmology, dealing with space and time. This old unity of the liberal arts, of the humanities and the sciences, distinguished, yet of a whole, predate the more current division of the liberal arts, generally amounting to the humanities plus the social sciences, from the STEM disciplines. This particular unity isn't the only arguable way to frame what a sound education consists of, but, with its traditional role and inclusiveness, it is one such way. The current trend of keying on STEM needs, while the need for this is easily demonstrable and stipulated to, need not entail the diversion of priorities and resources away from the rest of a solid general education.

Coming up with some neat initialism for this other vital part of an education to pair with "STEM" is hardly necessary, yet I have tried to craft one. Failing to come up with a viable one around catchy letters like "ROOTS" or some such, I finally settled on offering up: "ALEPHS". It, ALEPH, being based on the first letter of Arabic, Hebrew and other languages, as well as being the cogmate related to Greek's alpha, captures the same sort of prior, foundational features I was aiming for.

A - Arts, Anthropology

L - Literature, Languages, LGBTQ+ Studies

E - English, Education, Economics, Ethnic Studies

P - Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology

H - History

S - Sociology

ALEPHS is not perfect or explicitly inclusive of at least some other key fields, like the Classics, Civics, Cultural Studies, Communication, Religious Studies, etc., but these also can at least, with a generous reading, be seen as included in the ALEPHS fields.

Given the eroded and often toxic and flatly irrational nature of so much of our discourse in "civil" society these days, there is a plainly manifest and urgent case to be made for MUCH more emphasis on ALEPHS education. And STEM needs ALEPHS for, among other things, basis, manner and direction.


Professor Ken Howarth


What follows are some links about the related issues.


Critics of the Liberal Arts Are Wrong:

Why Get a Liberal Arts Degree? The Cost:

Move over, Stem: why the world needs humanities graduates:

World Economic Forum - Why teaching humanities improves innovation:

Liberal Arts vs. STEM: The Right Degrees, The Wrong Debate:

The Major Divide: Humanities vs. STEM Majors:

The False STEM vs. Liberal Arts Dichotomy:

Oh, The Humanities! Why STEM shouldn't take Precedence over the Arts:

Humanities vs. STEM, Redux:

At MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM:

American Academy of Arts & Sciences - Humanities Indicators Project:

The Risky English Major? Not So Fast.:

‘Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters’ by Michael S. Roth - Review:

The employability myth of the humanities:

STEM vs. the humanities. One, the other, a combination? Students discuss:

New Evidence: There is No Science-Education Crisis:

The Humanities Vs. The Sciences: Who Wins Out?:

Myth: A Liberal Arts Education Is Becoming Irrelevant:

The Decline of Humanities: 

Is The Distinction Between STEM And The Humanities Obsolete?:

Humanities and Science Must Work Together:

Don’t Defund Humanities: They’re Crucial to the Economy, Too:

STEM and the Humanities: Better Together:

Humanities vs. STEM: Which degree is better for a job in private equity?:

The Fate of the Humanities:

STEM Education Versus Humanities:

Why a Liberal Arts Education Matters:

The Real Reason the Humanities Are 'in Crisis':

STEM vs Humanities: Why Both are Needed for Analytics:

State of the debate. Chimes against humanities:

National Endowment for the Humanities and STEM Funding Opportunities:

Why STEM Should Care About the Humanities:

Troubadour or techie? The liberal arts vs. STEM debate ramps up:

America Is Raising A Generation Of Kids Who Can't Think Or Write Clearly

Make sciences and humanities equally difficult:

Management as a Liberal Art at Stanford: