Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why I Teach English Continued

Big boy blogger Andrew Sullivan points readers to this NPR article about the limits of science to console or make sense of an often irrational world.
Science gives us so much. It is the engine of our capacities, forging tools like the life-saving technological capacity to predict tsunamis. It is also the lens of our greatest aspiration, yielding broad narratives of cosmic and planetary evolution that set our personal stories in context.
But at some point we crash up against domains where science, or at least science alone, cannot help. In those moments, when we are numb with the immediacy of great suffering, explanations can become clay on the tongue. In that shattered place, our other human talents often find their place. In poem or paean, in music or metaphor, in silent homage to whatever powers make sense to the heart in that moment, we may (or may not) find our way.
What those moments teach is that all existence is, for us, provisional. They show that we are as much creatures of experienced feeling as we are of rational thinking. They show us the full range of what it means to be human, all too human, in a world alive with tremendous power, unspeakable beauty and, sometimes, shattering terror.
I doubt anyone who currently sits on a school board will consider that literature provides answers when science "becomes clay on the tongue."  I'm fairly certain that they all have drunk so much STEM Kool-Aid that even this scientist's eloquent admission will have no effect.  So when the budget axe falls, literature, art, and music will bear the brunt of the burden.

That fact is both frightening and a great pity.  Kids live in a world more wonderful and dangerous than anything those of us on the wrong side of 50 grew up in.  They need more tools than ever to make sense of everything going on around them,  No single discipline can provide those answers, but at the start of next year, most South Dakota students will be exposed to fewer tools than what I was when I went to a high school of about 60 students.  That situation is also frightening and a great pity.

1 comment:

caheidelberger said...

Posibly related: Erin pointed me toward this Newsweek article on how we make decisions. You know me: I love Vulcan logic. But if we try to break everything in a complicated problem into rational, scientific bits, we overload and make worse decisions. As I read that article, I thought something like what you're thinking here: English class, literature, and the arts, engage a holistic part of our brains that makes sense of the world in a different way, a way we can't do without.