Can Liberal Education Save the Sciences?

Lorraine Daston in The Point:

ScreenHunter_1980 May. 28 20.05Some of you may be mentally re-parsing my title to something more like “Can Liberal Education Be Saved from the Sciences?” For today’s embattled humanities, the sciences have come to stand for the antithesis of what is now understood to constitute the content and values of a liberal education, namely: the cultivation of the intellectual and artistic traditions of diverse cultures past and present, the assertion of the generalist’s prerogatives over those of the specialist, and the defense of non-utilitarian values as preparation for civic engagement in the cause of the commonweal. In contrast, what are currently known as the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—stand for knowledge that is presumed universal and uniform, for narrow specialization and, above all, for applications that are useful and often lucrative. A comparative glance at the budgets for the sciences and for the disciplines that constitute the core of the Core seems to tell it all: it’s not the sciences that need saving, most certainly not by the likes of liberal education, a minnow—a starving minnow, at that—sent out to rescue a fat and sassy whale.

Nonetheless, I’m sticking to my original title. In the scant time allotted, I’m going to gallop through the history of the place of the sciences and mathematics in the liberal education curriculum, from the medieval university through the present. This is a history that packs some surprises. I’ll then draw some lessons for the place of the sciences in a liberal education for the here and now.

More here.