Liberal arts colleges need sciences, experts say

Reforming science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – education has been a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's reforms. The Obama Administration has made continued efforts to improve the way that science is taught. However, combining scientific knowledge with critical thinking and reasoning skills has been an ongoing challenge for some liberal arts colleges. At a recent conference at Boston College (BC), education experts emphasized the need for the deeper integration of science classes at such institutions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Last year, the Obama Administration announced its goal of recruiting more than 10,000 STEM teachers over the next two years. President Obama said that advancing scientific education in America's schools was vital to the continued success of the U.S. in today's global economy. One of the main goals of his education reforms includes improving students critical thinking skills in STEM subjects, increasing general standards of scientific literacy, and establishing new scholarships to encourage enrollment in scientific majors.

One argument put forward at the event was that while science can be an important part of a college education, scientific subjects often need to be taught in the context of traditional liberal arts majors, such as journalism, sociology, political science and philosophy. Many of the barriers to solving problems facing the nation rely on appealing to an informed public, highlighting the value of combining scientific classes with liberal arts courses.

Even if students have a solid factual education in scientific disciplines, experts say that unless students also have the critical thinking skills and evaluation techniques often taught in liberal arts programs, attempts to solve problems such as competitiveness on the world stage could be counterproductive. The issues that the Obama Administration are attempting to solve cannot be fixed by scientists alone, according to the news source.

Mary Crane, the Rattigan professor of English at BC and co-author of the article, says that students need to be able to look at problems from both a scientific and analytical perspective in order to make accurate observations and evaluate problems effectively.

"We need to train our students to make responsible and ethical decisions based on their evaluation of scientific evidence," Crane wrote in the article. "We need to motivate them to act, to go beyond discussion and to identify solutions to preserve and sustain the planet for future generations."

At the same time, liberal arts majors need to be aware of scientific methods for looking at problems. If students can't examine data or analyze statistics, they can't be expected to put their ideas forward with any authority. Issues like this highlight the need for a balance of scientific and creative education in liberal arts colleges. 

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