Irrigation of life’s deserts

Sami Gillette

A discussion with a former English teacher raised some ideas about the importance of education, history and literature. Yes, STEM courses are becoming even more vital as technology and innovation entrench themselves in the economy and leading industries. But to forget the humanities or to dismiss them as frivolous is dangerous and careless.

While my perspective is completely biased – I have been a nerdy English student since I first learned to read – there are many who would agree with me.

The study of history, languages, art, literature and the like are important in that they provide a perspective and context to the present. Who are we? Where do we come from? How are we connected? These are all questions that can be answered by studying the humanities.

Many argue that without the study of the humanities there would only be cold, hard logic. Is this knowledge useful? Of course.

Yet, without the humanities there would be no soul to the head and body of education. Instead students would learn how to compute numbers, study biology, analyze markets, etc. without balancing this knowledge with connections to the larger world.

Mark Slouka, an American novelist and essayist argues:
“The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be. Their method is confrontational, their domain unlimited, their ‘product’ not truth but the reasoned search for truth, their ‘success’ something very much like Frost’s momentary stay against confusion.”

As every school is in a mad scramble to hire more STEM teachers, it is imperative that humanities teachers are not forgotten. While every student may not love to read Shakespeare or may not understand the importance of studying the Napoleonic Wars, they should still have a background upon which to build their understanding of the world at large.

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis.