Science Literacy in Context

As an independent math tutor and physics tutor, I suppose it’s inevitable that I pay more attention than most people do to public perceptions of people like me who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects. A particularly ridiculous but popular notion is that “science people” have a very narrow range interests and know little about anything outside their fields. The anecdotal evidence against this is overwhelming. Using myself as an example, since leaving university decades ago, the majority of courses I have taken have been in subjects like music appreciation, writing, drawing, painting, history and literature. More of the same are on my “to do” list, along with learning at least one foreign language and one musical instrument. That is not at all unusual. The diversity of my interests is no greater than that of any of my “science friends”. Contrast that to my liberal arts friends. I have never seen any of them take a physics course or put as much effort into learning calculus as I did into learning Farsi.

Can anyone explain to me why artistic illiteracy qualifies a person as a barbarian but mathematical and scientific illiteracy is so socially acceptable?

This topic has become a hot one in the United States because of the Common Core State Standards that try to get students reading more non-fiction. Apparently some people are afraid that it will lead to a death of the liberal arts. Considering how reluctant people are to learn new things that require much effort, I find that very unlikely.

In the above YouTube video Neil deGrasse Tyson touches upon the same issue but with more humour than I can. The best part starts at about the 4:30 mark.

 

 

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