University students often ask why they need to take courses that seem to have nothing to do with their major or intended career plan. This is especially true for students in the STEM fields, when confronting requirements in the humanities.
Why, they ask, do I need to take that philosophy, literature, or history of art class? In the past, I have found myself supplying rather lengthy explanations about the importance of a “well rounded” education. But now I can answer with one simple word…Volkswagen.
The recent scandal, where Volkswagen used software to detect and then control engine operations in order to fool the standard emission test, demonstrates why we need engineers, scientists, and technocrat managers to cultivate an understanding of social and individual responsibility. Knowledge in the STEM fields is crucial…but this knowledge needs to be situated within the context of clear moral thinking.
This sense of ethics is not something that can be handed down in a single, specially designed courses or training module. It only comes from engaging with and working through the great works of world literature, the metaphysical puzzles of philosophy and religion, and the creative innovations found in architecture or music. For this reason, we need to resist the temptation to reduce or otherwise erode our commitment to the humanities and recognize that this effort is exactly what is needed to prepare the next generation of STEM innovators and decision makers.
Volkswagen is the reason that S-T-E-M needs to be rewritten with a not so silent H.
I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective.