Reminds me of E.D. Hirsch in that you want to plan a standard curriculum to maximize competitiveness. However, Hirsch had the opposite approach to content: content is like velcro. Learn something about Marx and you’re ready to say “right, right, exploitation of the proletariat, false consciousness, etc.” when it comes up in an Economist article. I like that your content would prioritize STEM stuff more, but you fall into the same trap as Hirsch. You can’t prove to yourself the value (or existence) of “critical thinking,” so you assume we can skip it.

But the reason people major in Ethnic Studies or Classics rather than CS and Bio-Engineering has to do with the pedagogy. Huge lectures and standardized tests are less engaging than seminars and papers. Rigorous discussion of opinions is entirely possible in STEM and does happen, but undergrads face 2+ years of lectures taught by people who’d rather not teach, with no training to teach and then are graded in such a way as to discourage them, rather than encourage them.

I think that what you really want is to make STEM fun and that comes down to incentives at the Departmental level for teaching, which currently are close to nil. Some schools are experimenting with tenure track teaching jobs in STEM departments, but the general rule is publications & grants = winning. It’d be great to do something about this! Math can be fun, but look at a college catalog and it’s no comparison: Greek Art & Architecture vs Introduction to Proofs in Analysis. With newfound freedom and mostly interested in your peers, which would you choose?

Final bonus point: it doesn’t seem like you gave much credit to the value of studying one complex subject in depth, e.g. Jane Austen. This approach to training is the core of the MA and PHD, where the exercise of writing a thesis is the training.


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