The Value of All Subjects

An important point was raised in this episode of Crash Course: European History:

“The question isn’t just how to build a bridge; it’s where to build a bridge.”

In other words, subjects like history, sociology, psychology, politics, economics, philosophy, literature, and art are just as important as STEM subjects. These subjects are often undervalued or even derided as pointless. But they are just as essential to our civilization as more “practical” subjects.

Science and technology are powerful tools, capable of benefiting us all. But if we don’t have citizens capable of thinking carefully about how to direct those tools, we might use them to create immense harm. The Nazi war machine comes to mind.

We need the capacity to extract and use the Earth’s resources, but we also need the collective will to use those resources sustainably and distribute them equitably.

At the end of that episode, John Green points out that there is a difference between what we know how to do and what we actually do. There are many things that we can do, such as build bridges and schools or prevent and cure diseases, that we nonetheless fail to do because we’ve collectively put our priorities elsewhere.

So it’s not enough to have engineers and doctors; we also need citizens and leaders who are willing and able to direct the expertise of engineers and doctors to the benefit of humanity. And that will require educational systems that value the humanities.

These subjects are not impractical. They are not a waste of time.

There is value in all of the subjects.

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