With all the criticisms of the Humanities and Social Sciences and some pushing to “reform” Higher Education into solely Trade or Technical Training, I started thinking about what if any role my field plays in today’s world.
I sent the message in my drawing above to a former undergraduate student who is preparing for his Professional Engineering Exam after earning his Master’s degree in the field while working as a Civil Engineer. He discovered a series of mistakes in one of the marketed preparation books for the exam and naturally wondered if the time spent using this particular guide had been wasted.
I taught this man in 2 undergraduate history courses years ago. I made phone calls and wrote letters of recommendation for him. Today, I call this man a friend, and we converse on a vast variety of topics. He may be a sought after engineer because of his technical skills and knowledge, but he discovered valuable information in other courses as well and that information is helping him progress at a much faster rate. Looking through his reports, I’m not surprised to see the multiple applications of the historic method. I’m not shocked in the roles that the history of a structure or the decoding of political regulations and the process of funding have in his technological career.
To some, I may only be a history professor, but thanks to this young man and many students like him, I feel connected to the bridges he redesigns and transforms. I helped introduce him to the past. I encouraged, actually required in exams and papers that he explain the importance and relevance of past events both at the time and how those events influenced later happenings.
Why do some discount the necessity for an engineer to research successes and failures of those prior to assist with his creations of new structures? Why do some not see the connection to the historical background of a structure to understand what must be done to maintain the benefit of a modern adaptation to serve today and for the future?
In his work the past, present, and the future are all brought together.
Some may argue that history, political science, art, communication, and so on is unimportant or even irrelevant to the demands of the modern world. I want them to look at the work of an engineer, a medical doctor, a computer technician, a financial manager and so called specific skills occupations. What some deem irrelevant is not only there, but is on display within all of these fields.
When I think about this former student who later became a friend and today teaches me about a multitude of subjects in our discussions, I know that both he and I appreciate and understand that the modern world today will be history tomorrow. That’s just another reason why it is important today to know how and why things were done previously in the yesterdays.
I hate to disappoint the naysayers, but the fields of history and similar subjects share more in common with engineering and similar fields than there are differences. He may not be able to provide as many citations and view certain past events from as many perspectives as I can, but that’s not always important. I may not know the precise mathematical formulae and components or technical jargon, but I can decipher and do some of his same work from my experiences working out on a strawberry farm. Sometimes, I can create or repair something from just having read about it or something similar at some point. The key for both of us, however, is how we apply what we know in our analyzing and solving of the issues at hand.
Memorization and indoctrination only work if everything takes place as expected. The same is true of learning a single way to perform a task. Whether it’s taught in the field or taught from a textbook, few things ever go exactly as described. You have to make adjustments.
It’s when specific skills are combined with thought, imagination, and communication that true innovation occurs.
Yes, my degrees are in history while his are in engineering. While you may be able to see immediate results from his work faster than mine, my work is a part of his just as his is mine. Depending upon time and circumstance one may be of more value than the other, but the opposite may be true at another point. We are both needed, and we both are capable of making the other more effective.
Why limit yourself and restrict options and potential? That’s not reform. That’s ignorance and stupidity.
Being able to apply what you know to successfully address a given situation is far more important than having skills but not achieving or even knowing what is possible with those skills. Achieving that ability is not limited to any single path. A University or College may not be the best pathway for a person. An apprenticeship or some vocational or technical training may prove the most beneficial to some.
It depends upon the individual, and as I have written here on different occasions, my maternal Grandfather without any formal schooling was just as if not more intelligent than some of the faculty with whom I associate at Johns Hopkins and similar institutions. I’ll make the same argument with my Dad and his high school diploma. Likewise, I have more confidence in many of the people with whom I graduated high school in solving problems than I do with many professionals in the same fields. MD, PhD, and so on mean less to me than applied ability in many cases. Seriously, it depends upon the situation at hand, and none of these individuals or professions are any better or worse than the next. Sure a plumber might be the wrong choice to perform neurosurgery, but many neurosurgeons are unable to repair a leaking faucet.