Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Humanities vs Engineering at the Service Academies

Tom Ricks had an interesting article and discussion on the service academies last week, http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/10/08/which_teaches_officers_more_engineering_or_the_humanities

Basically, the argument is over whether the academies have over-emphasized engineering at the expense of humanities.

My sense is, it is not one or the other, as plenty of cadets majored in non-engineering fields (economics, history, etc) at the West Point. Rather, I think it's that the academies force the non-engineers into a bachelor of science track, whereas they might be better served with a bachelor of arts track. The BS track, with its concentration on the majoring subject, gives the social science students a false sense of mastery over the subject. Whereas a BA track would encourage the students to think in a non-standard direction.

Moreover, the requirement of multivariable calculus, newtonian mechanics, and electro-magnetism are not enough in understanding our physical world. The requirements of calculus and newtonian physics sprang from an era when we thought we could solve every equation. [ie, they offer the world view where we can solve everything deterministically, rather than empirically.] It is only when you go one step higher, to differential equations and dynamics, that you find the far bigger world of problems we cannot solve, where most equations do not have closed-form solutions.

The BS curriculum tries to be a scientific program by offering calculus and newtonian physics, but it does not go far enough. So we end up with students who think they can solve everything, who has not seen the world as it is.

So the service academies are doing a dis-service to the nation by forcing non-engineering cadets to go through the BS program. The academies need to get with the times, step beyond their 18th century curriculum, by either requiring DiffEqs & Dynamics for all, or start offering BAs.

PS: Added tags

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