Everybody appreciates the geeks, who bear us the gifts of the technology only they understand. They know their math and science, heroes for our time. They usually won't knock you over with quotations from Shakespeare, or pause in mid-byte to drink deep from the waters of philosophy, art and music, but if the microchip is the food of love, the geek is the faithful lover.
We depend on the geek to compete in the global economy. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. But the conventional wisdom examines only half the issue. If math and science are the roots of the future, the liberal arts are its fruit and flower. Fruit and flower are not getting the attention they deserve.
Maybe it's the post-Sputnik mentality, born when the Soviet Union launched the first man-made object to orbit in space. That was in 1957. The United States was humiliated, exposed as lacking the know-how to weave the magic. Outrage became outcry, to teach more science, more math. We quickly caught up and moved swiftly ahead, and the urge to emphasize math and science, cheating the liberal arts, lingers still.
We still suffer from the notion that art and music are for wimps, weepers and dilettantes. Despite all the art museums, all the venues for concerts the politicians have established in the nation's capital, the pols are usually still uneducated and uninterested in the arts. They may say they appreciate a liberal education, but they usually don't. They continue to throw money at the hard sciences, relegating the tasks of nurturing the soul and sensibility to those who pursue art for art's sake.
Congress and the White House should educate themselves in a report by the Thomas Fordham Institute, "Beyond the Basics: Achieving a Liberal Education for All Children." It shows how the emphasis in public school education is too much on math and reading, how teachers teach to the test. What the students learn is crucial, but what they don't learn hurts.
Teachers who feel pressure for their students to pass basic skills and standardized tests substitute "drill and kill" techniques at the expense of "problem solving" and conceptual thinking. Not only is there diminished time for art, music, languages, literature, history and civics, but the green-eyeshade men in Washington and the bean counters at City Hall allocate fewer funds for liberal arts. School counselors discourage students considering courses in the arts, literature and music.