Friday, September 16, 2016

Standing at the Intersection

Giving my students time for silent, sustained reading has had the unintended benefit of giving me time for silent, sustained reading, too.  I do walk around the library a few times to see what students are reading and to nudge the occasional student who has dozed off, but I figured that the best use of my time would be to model a love for reading to my students.  And although my students only get one period of reading time each week, I get three :)

This week, I finished Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.  It was a fascinating read about a fascinating, mercurial and truly innovative man, but my biggest takeaway from the book was one of the goals that Jobs carried through his career.  In his youth, Jobs was inspired by a quote he had read from Edwin Land, one of the founders of Polaroid.  Land had emphasized the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of science and the humanities, a call which resonated with the young Jobs.  Apple--and each of its products--was the result of Jobs trying to unite these two fields, and one of Jobs' desires, to his dying day, was that the products he helped to create would facilitate a closer marriage between science and the humanities.

Like Jobs, I was similarly struck when I read the quote from Edwin Land.  The culture at CAJ has shifted in recent years, with more students pursuing higher levels of math and science.  When I first started, classes like AP Chemistry and AP Calculus were populated by only a few of the most dedicated juniors and seniors, but this year, these upper-level sciences, as well as AP Biology, AP Physics and AP Statistics, are full classrooms.

More students than ever before are interested in pursuing careers in the maths and the sciences.  When I first noticed this shift starting to happen a few years ago, part of me worried--what would become of English and History?  Would I still be able to get my students to buy in even if they felt that the humanities were outside of their wheelhouse?

However, I am becoming increasingly convinced that what the world needs is engineers, doctors, chemists, physicists, statisticians, mathematicians and biologists who have a strong background in the humanities; who are able to communicate clearly and effectively in both print and in speech; who understand the interplay of history--culture, politics, and economics, and the bearing that this has had on science and technology; who have an aesthetic appreciation for the pieces of creation that they are studying.

Too often, teachers (and schools) construct a false dichotomy between different subjects, and especially science and the humanities.  What if, in reality, neither were complete without the other?

Every spring, I assign my Humanities class to read excerpts from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  Carson, a marine biologist, was also an avid reader and writer as a child, and this unique intersection of gifts and interests led her to research and write one of the first, and perhaps the most popular, book about ecology that has ever been published.

As I watch more and more of my students graduate and embark on undergrad studies in engineering or various other branches of science, I cannot help but wonder: have I done my part to help them see the importance of the intersection between science and the humanities?  Have I passed along my love for writing?  Have I nurtured a love for reading?

The more aware of this I become, the more I can do to cultivate this relationship, and to equip my students to stand at this oh, so important intersection.

1 comment:

  1. that's why this physician has returned to the humanities, a little late in life, but I wish I had more vigorously pursued it while steeped in my science and clinical training. It is essential for better understanding of why we're here, not just what we're made of.