There’s more to a meaningful life than technology

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

STEM – science, technology, engineering, mathematics. This is the current holy mantra of education; the answer to employment for our youth with good
paying jobs. Gone are such ideas as
history, civics, grammar, poetry, and even politeness and respect. Entrenched are
the requirements of competition,

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

STEM – science, technology, engineering, mathematics. This is the current holy mantra of education; the answer to employment for our youth with good
paying jobs. Gone are such ideas as
history, civics, grammar, poetry, and even politeness and respect. Entrenched are
the requirements of competition,
consumerism and material success
measured against an efficiency scale
of technological (including military)
dominance and economic prosperity.
There is no doubt that technology is the dominant force in our society and it behoves us to understand and master this to some degree. But for what purpose? Are material wealth and competitive edge the only significant purposes of human existence? Do our lives really depend on the latest smart phone and the newest app to inform us of our location or the purchase price of the just-released gizmo? Is there a human dimension to our lives that is developed and enhanced by education? Can we live meaningful lives without some knowledge of our history, without great literature, without imaginary places and the simple joys of friendships?
The problem is not entirely new. In Charles Dickens’ novel, Hard Times, the Superintendent of Education, Mr. Gradgrind, insists on nothing but the “facts”. This purely utilitarian approach to education exactly matches the STEM requirements of today. The idea that poetry can be more than correct spelling seems lost both to Mr. Gradgrind and his modern educational equivalents. But the human capacity to learn is more than the ability to reason like a computer. Emotions of love, tolerance, spirit, sense of accomplishment, and appreciation of music and the arts
all contribute to a meaningful life. Concentrating on the “technical” aspects of our world without understanding and appreciating the full potential of the human endeavour will bring about an end to the human drama that is ours to live and make better.
If material prosperity were the only requirement for meaningful life, computers – artificial intelligence – could, and will, take mastery of this planet. But, if there is more to life, then our education must be aimed at a more expansive curriculum that emphasises the full potential of human beings. There must be a place for imagination, for justice, for civil decency. Our future dreams contain more than material wants. Our educational system, which informs so much of our thought process, must not be limited. It must include the value of community, the sense of wonder, and the devotion to the unending task of continuous learning and an appreciation of the arts and humanities.