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Sunday, 23 April 2017

STEM to STEAM we STARTS to wonder, STEM to STEAM what do you mean?

And to the matter of 366 I now turn! Below an extract, reformatted for the purpose at hand:

Act 1, Scene 1

Enter Sir Eric Ashby FRS, with Julia, an artist.

Julia:     Speak Eric. Speak!

Eric:     I will. By the 1870s Oxford and Cambridge were ready to accept experimental science as an ingredient in education; but they were not prepared to jettison their cherished ideals of a liberal education in favour of the ideal of the university as a research institution. The vague but none the less attractive idea of the scholar-gentleman is still alive. Liberal education is still the aim of the Oxford tutor, and it has become the aim of the civic university lecturer; for the centripetal attraction of Oxford and Cambridge and their ideas remain a tremendous force in the provincial universities of Britain. British universities have never quite surrendered the idea of Renaissance Man to the idea of the Research Worker. These two powerful social forces – the influence of the utilitarian and the cult of the practical man on the one hand, and the influence of the classical humanists and the cult of the scholar-gentleman on the other – profoundly affected the manner in which British universities adapted themselves to the scientific revolution. Oxford did not respond as Göttingen had responded; Sheffield did not regard science as Munich had regarded it. Wissenschaft won its way into British Universities, but it never quite came to terms with the tough pragmatism of lay governors in civic universities or with the tenacious ideals of classical dons in Oxford and Cambridge. To this day the new has not become altogether assimilated into the old; adaptation is not yet complete: and here lies the cause of some of our present problems in universities.

Julia:    STEM to STEAM we wonder. What do you think?

Eric:     Not sure! But it is evident that the antitheses between science and humanism has almost vanished, but it has been replaced by another antithesis, equally mischievous. The future historian will record that the unprofitable debates of the 1860s on the humanities versus science were followed in the 1950s by equally unprofitable debates on specialisation versus a liberal education. There is an assumption that specialisation and a liberal education are antithetic. What is needed is to challenge the assumption itself. The Oxford Dictionary defines liberal education as education fit for a gentleman. That is still an acceptable definition; it is the idea of a gentleman which has changed. A century ago when Britain awoke to the need for technological education, a gentleman belonged to the leisured class. Modern gentlemen do not belong to the leisured class. Many of them work something like a seventy-hour week, and more and more of them are finding that their business requires expert knowledge. A case could be made therefore for including technology among the ingredients of a liberal education. What then is missing in a scientific or technological education? It is not a smattering of art or architecture which is missing, nor is it an acquaintance with history or literature. Indeed it is not a primary lack of subject-matter at all: the fault lies with what Alfred Whitehead called a celibacy of the intellect which is divorced from the concrete contemplation of the complete facts. It is a preoccupation with abstractions from reality, an escape from the whole of reality. In his book, Science and the Modern World, Whitehead warned us that this would become the great danger of professional education. Each profession, he said, makes progress in its own groove of abstractions, but there is no groove of abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension of human life.

Enter Alfred Whitehead FRS

Julia:    Eric speaks of Whitehead and Alfred Whitehead appears. Strange coincidence! Perhaps not! The magic works. Pray speak, Alfred.

Alfred:  I will. There is something between the gross specialised values of the mere practical man, and the thin specialised values of the mere scholar. Both types have missed something; and if you add together the two sets of values, you do not obtain the missing elements. When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset. There is no substitute for the direct perception of the concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality. A factory, with its machinery, its community of operatives, its social service to the general population, its dependence upon organising and designing genius, its potentialities as a source of wealth to the holders of its stock, is an organism exhibiting a variety of vivid values. What we want to train is the habit of apprehending such an organism in its completeness.

Exit Alfred Whitehead, Enter John Dewey

John:    Progress in science ought to manifest itself as an emancipation of the mind enabling it to pursue new ends and new ideals; but in fact, progress due to science has been confined to more efficient means of satisfying old ends and old ideals.

Julia:    This criticism is still valid.

Exit John Dewey

Eric:     Adaptations needed to bring British universities into equilibrium with the age of technology are changes of curriculum; they could be accomplished through the normal channels of university administration and legislation. But they would not be successful unless accompanied by subtle adaptations in academic thought: professors of technology need to be persuaded that the pattern of curriculum under which they themselves were trained is inadequate for their students. Professors of arts subjects need to be persuaded that the presence of technology in universities puts them under an obligation to reconsider the emphasis in their own humanistic studies. It is at this point that universities look to their faculties of arts for help; and it is at this point that they are often disappointed. For faculties of arts have themselves become so deeply influenced by science that they seem unable to offer help towards the assimilation of technologists. Instead of contributing to the university what the Victorians understood by a liberal education, some of them are doing with grammar and documents what scientists and technologists can already do with formulae and instruments. This is doubtless profitable for the progress of scholarship in the humanities, but one cannot escape the consequences that humanities cease to be humanising when they are treated that way. It is a sort of treatment which leads to a celibacy of the intellect as inimical to a liberal education in arts as it is in science.

Exit Eric Ashby

Julia:    The involvement of artists in science and technology, so much discussed among those who live in the echo chamber that is art-science and art-technology, do the same – signs of humanisation are difficult to find! Often one cannot tell who is an artist, because they are as much caught-up in the ideologies of science and technology as the scientists and technologists themselves. Which is one of the reasons why we do not engage with this noisy lot – and they are noisy. Very noisy!

Enter George Orwell

George: Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Exit George Orwell

Julia:    STEM to STEAM we STARTS to wonder, STEM to STEAM what do you mean? It STARTS to become a nightmarish dream. Awake. Awake. See what thou art doing! The European Commission, DG CONNECT, are fakes! What do I mean? Only those with knowledge will understand. Already that which STARTS becomes an example, an indicator, a signpost towards what not to do – a worst practice case study. And we will use it as such over the coming years to help those outside the European world. This is the Age of Tao! Goodbye Vainglorious Enlightened Ones – your time, your age, your world, is done.


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