STEM or the Root of the Problem?
Much ado is made nowadays about the need to produce more graduates skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a group of disciplines known, when taken together, by the acronym ‘STEM.’ While I do not doubt the value of these skills in equipping our young people to help us regain our edge in a global economy, the emphasis on STEM is often made to the exclusion of what really matters.
Education isn’t primarily about learning how to make a living, but about learning how to live. A mass of technically proficient barbarians will not remain free, or prosperous, for long. Citizenship is the key skill that our young need to acquire, if they are to rebuild the foundations of civil society and pass them on to future generations. Citizenship, in a free country, requires a measure of self-restraint that springs from a moral code at once instinctively understood and acted upon. While morality, per se, is the province of hearth and home, secondarily of sacred instruction, schools should act in support of a broadly-understood moral code, rather than stand athwart it. A people capable of self-control are capable of self-government, as writers from Aristotle to modern times have maintained. Without self-control, no amount of law enforcement will keep people safe and no array of paper guarantees will prevent the looting of the public treasury. A people without self-control will descend into anarchy or will be ruled by a rod of iron.
Building on the foundation of morality instilled at home, schools should focus on molding citizens capable of discharging the public business. As Thucydides has Pericles say in his ‘funeral oration,’ no man is so poor or obscure that he cannot serve his city. Whether as a voter, a juror, or in the capacity of a full-time public servant (civil or military), informed citizens imbued with sound moral qualities are our best guarantee of there being a country where the STEM-related occupations can flourish and thereby enrich us all.