Don Gale: Education for life instead of education about ‘rules’

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Principal Tyler Howe visits an 8th grade Americn History class at West Lake Junior High School in West Valley City Wednesday Jan. 25.

I appreciate the importance of STEM education. I have more of it than 95 percent of the population (almost four years of pre-med biology, chemistry, physics and math), but STEM does not go far in solving our real problems.

For that we need increased education in humanities, arts and social sciences. STEM will get us to Mars. Humanities will help us get along with one another here on earth. We will survive whether or not we make the trip to Mars. The question is whether we will survive if we don’t learn to like one another, get along with one another, take care of one another and understand one another.

Science proves that global climate change is a reality, but science has not and cannot convince the human race that we can do something about it – that we must do something about it. For that we need folks trained to communicate, experienced in the arts of motivation and educated about the psychology of human learning.

Life is not about science, technology, engineering or math. Life is about people and relationships. We must have more educational focus on life and living.

STEM education is easy. Two plus two is always four. Two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen always make water. A feather and a golf ball both fall at the same rates of acceleration (in a vacuum). A spinning coil in a magnetic field always generates electricity. Blocked blood vessels always cause heart attacks or strokes, depending on their location. That’s STEM. (Don’t insult me by citing the rare anomalies.) The challenge is to learn the rules or laws, understand them, and use them to improve the environment for living.

On the other hand, laws of human behavior and interaction are never fixed. Every human being is different. Every human reaction is different. Every human emotion is different. The challenge is to learn how to accept the differences, how to interact with the differences, and how to transform the differences into positives for the whole of society.

Learning science is easy. Learning human relations is tough — perhaps impossible. However, we have no choice but to try, especially during the process of educating young people. The alternative is more wars, more pain, more anger, more delays in using science for the benefit of our society and our world.

Artificial intelligence and robots will help us understand and use the laws of science. They won’t contribute much to human relationships. And they will put more scientists, engineers and technologists out of work than they will displace those of us in other fields. We can create robot technicians, but it will take much longer (if ever) to create a robot that is a friend, a spouse, an artist, a psychologist, an organization leader or an effective politician.

One scientist told me that nature’s rules are fixed. Our challenge, he said, is to learn as much as we can about those laws so we can work within them to advance the interests of human beings and their environment. But, he added, human rules are never static. They change from person to person, from place to place, and from generation to generation. Our challenge in that realm is to learn to be flexible, to accept our differences, and to replace enmity with comity in so far as possible.

Forget the stupid acronyms. Let’s just call it what it is: Education for living.

Don Gale.

Don Gale is a long-time Salt Lake City journalist and writer.