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Humanities vs. Sciences as a Contemporary Issue
Should the Middle and Secondary School Curriculum maintain an equal balance between
Humanities and Sciences?

Duarte’s (2016) critique on Martha Nussbaum article ‘Education Citizens: The Moral (and Anti-Moral)

Emotions’ in ‘Educating Citizens for Humanism: Nussbaum and the Education Crisis’ explores a reformulated

argument of education for citizenship or education for profit. It details that education for democratic

citizenship aims to develop three key abilities, critical thinking, problem-solving and the capacity to

understand; rather education for profit involves the training of specific skills in order to produce the

economic growth of a certain group, company or country (Duarte, 2016). Duarte’s critique draws attention

to the current education crisis caused by an overvaluation of one over the other, and poses that notion that

‘education must always aim at creating knowledge and focus on the development of humanism as the

greater goal, regardless of the emphasis on arts and humanities or an exact science' (Duarte, 2016). These

two differing conceptions of education being humanities and science in the contemporary context draw

attention to two divergent political-economic beliefs and values.

Nussbaum (2010) proposes a mixed model of education in which focuses ‘not only on education for

citizenship but also education for profit, would be important for the proper functioning of the democratic

state and therefore, both should be proportionally distributed in the curriculum of schools.' However when

looking closer at the relationship Nussbaum (2010) identifies ‘a mixed education that combines both models

is not a viable alternative, since profit is seen as the ultimate purpose of education within modern society, as

a means to educate for economic growth and material wealth.' This misconception forms a cycle of placing

one over the other, without factoring in the need for both human development and economic growth to

form a well rounded and educated the future population. It cannot be viable to place more emphasis on one

over the other when both humanities and science serves to enhance one's individual knowledge, in a

knowledge society.

Knowledge can be seen to achieve usefulness and purpose, or in a human sense to exercise critical and

creative thinking and problem solving, all necessary and interrelated from a modern educational standpoint.

Thus, this notion of a balanced curriculum should aim to find unity within knowledge. All subjects relate in

some shape or form and can be used to create a well-informed nation of learners and in turn, enhance

growth within today’s globalised and economical society (Nussbaum, 2010).

STEM the acronym in reference to the integration of Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

has come to dominate middle and secondary school curriculum objectives. The approach involves core

concepts and skills being taught separately in each discipline but housed within a common theme, the

incorporation through trans-disciplinary approaches aims to closely link concepts and skills from two or more

disciples to deepen students’ conceptual understanding and skills and apply them to real-world problems

and projects (English, 2016). The concept aims to shape a holistic learning experience, which has emerged in

response to international concerns across, policy developers, business and industry organisations, as a

means to improve STEM skills to meet current and future social and economic challenges (English, 2016). It is

argued within the STEM Task Force Report (2014) that these disciplines ‘can not and should not be taught in

isolation, just as they do not exist in isolation in the real world or the workforce.'

McGarr and Lynch (2015, p.51) in ‘Monopolising the STEM agenda in second-level schools: exploring power

relations and subject subcultures’ recognises Government’s and Educational policymakers strategic efforts

‘to build on perceived natural subjects synergies across the separate STEM disciples are prompted as central

to supporting the growth of economies through the development of human capital and by ensuring the

supply of suitably trained individuals for vocational roles in these areas.’ Through policy changes encouraging

and incentivising the uptake of mathematics and science-based subjects, middle and secondary schools

have, in effect become ‘subservient to global capitalism’ (Lynch, 2012).

Recently, education has seen a move from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)

framework that focuses on ‘solving problems that draw on concepts and procedures from mathematics and

science while incorporating the teamwork and design methodology of engineering and using appropriate

technology,’ (English, 2017, p.6) to the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics)

framework that moves beyond discipline-specific integration to prompt creatively and problem solving when

exploring and designing solutions (Herro and Quigley, 2016). STEAM’s, incorporation of arts and humanities

can be seen to assist in STEM Learning and engagement, with a focus on social practices acknowledging the

value of ‘art and imagination in the process of generation of scientific knowledge’ (Watson and Watson,

2013, p.1). While STEM in middle and secondary contexts is rigidly focused on science and math it misses the

opportunity to engage young learners through creativity and expression, the intersection of creative

processes, through STEAM allows students to solve scientifically based problems through a design-based and

innovative lens.
The Australian Government's Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008),

which sets educational priorities, has committed the nation to develop ‘confident and creative individuals.’

Thus, the interconnection between creativity and arts demonstrates the educational value of incorporating

activities across art, math, and sciences, as a means to foster critical and creative thinking. By organising

pedagogical learning through interdisciplinary and real-world structures enhances students' creative

potential and growth mindset (Harris and Bruin, 2018). Teachers must recognise that creativity involves

transferable skills, including problem-solving, imagining possibilities, critical reflection, flexibility thinking,

teamwork and collaboration, risk-taking, questioning and developing mastery through theoretical and

practical ways of working (Harris and Bruin, 2018). Teachers must utilise and draw upon various resources,

capabilities, and environments to enhance students' creative skills and processes (Harris and Bruin, 2018).

Through the breaking down of subject-specific knowledge and working to encourage inquisitiveness,

collaboration and persistence will help to spark imaginative thinking cross-disciplinary problem solving and

divergent thinking to promote creativity across learning areas.

STEAM integration appears to be increasingly emphasized within educational settings, reflecting the

interdisciplinary solutions required in tackling today's complex economic, social and environments problems

(English, 2017). The implementation of integrated curriculum approaches moves school subjects away from

being taught in isolation from each other, rather views subjects as being interrelated. Honey et al. (2014)

define the notion as ‘working in the context of complex phenomena or situations on tasks that require

students to see knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines.’ It requires intentional and specific

consideration into both learning content and context, English (2017, p.8) identifies focus must be placed on

‘integration where learning experiences have multiple learning objectives, supporting content where one or

more learning areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, arts, and mathematics) are addressed in support of

main learning objectives and context integration where the context from one discipline is used for the

learning objectives from another.

The extension of STEM education to incorporate the arts (STEAM) increases equity and access to STEM

education through reaching a broader range of student interests and learning profile preferences. With the

addition of the arts provides not only new disciplinary learning content opportunities but also real-world

contexts that cater to diverse students interests and abilities. Jackson (2010) establishes that ‘the most

enduring innovations marry art with sciences.' Engineering, for example, is one of the key disciplines shaping

our environment; its process draws upon both content and contexts from art and technology (English, 2017).
In implementing STEAM programs, ensuring each of the subject disciplines is being adequately developed is

critical. With the addition of art as the fifth discipline generates an extra element when designing and

implementing lesson content that meets the objectives of the respective learning areas (Harris and Bruin,

2018). Research conducted by Kelley and Knowles, 2016) indicate the difficulties teachers face in making

appropriate links across the STEAM domains, ‘with students becoming disinterested in science and

mathematics when taught in isolation devoid of connections to cross-cutting ideas and real-world

applications.’ Thus, further professional development is required whereby a focus is placed on

implementable frameworks for integration and associated curriculum resources enhances teachers ability to

draw connections between content and contexts. If these challenges are met, well-designed STEAM

experiences can provide learning that enables the engagement of a more diverse range of students and

student learning.

Middle and Secondary school curriculum must maintain an equal balance between Humanities and Sciences

to create well-rounded student learning. Through the implementation of STEAM into curriculum structure

schools and educators can work to develop engaging and creative learning content across multiple contexts.

Within today's economically driven society, where multidisciplinary approaches and skills are required for

solving our increasingly complex problems, STEAM acts as a facilitator of knowledge, skills, and

understanding necessary for the future of the economy and society (McGarr and Lynch, 2015). STEAM

fosters creativity and critical thinking among students by changing the learning environment to enhance

collaborative work and provide increased opportunities to learn with technology-rich tools. All subjects

relate in some shape or form and can be used to create a well-informed nation of learners and in turn,

enhance growth within today’s globalised and economical society (Nussbaum, 2010). With the inclusion of

real-world contexts adds relevance to learning situations, and allows students to problem solve and make

meaning from information. It is thus, vital education places equal focus on Humanities and Sciences, to

enhance one’s conceptual knowledge, within a knowledge society.


 Duarte, M., 2016. “Educating Citizens for Humanism: Nussbaum and the Education Crisis”. Studies in
Philosophy and Education, 35(5), pp. 463-476
 English, L.D., 2016. STEM education K-12: perspectives on integration. International Journal of STEM
Education, 3(1), pp. 1-8.
 English, L.D., 2017. “Advancing Elementary and Middle School STEM Education”. International Journal of
Science and Mathematics Education, 15, pp. 20.
 Harris, A. and DE Bruin, L.R., 2018. "Secondary school creativity, teacher practice, and STEAM education:
An international study". Journal of Educational Change, 19(2), pp. 153-179
 Herro, D. and Quigley, C., 2016. “Innovating with STEAM in middle school classrooms: remixing
education”. On the Horizon, 24(3), pp. 190-204
 Jackson, E. (2011). The top ten lessons Steve Jobs taught us.
 Kelley, T.R. & Knowles, J.G. (2016). A conceptual framework for integrated STEM education. International
Journal of STEM Education, 3(11). Advanced online publication. doi:10.1186/s40594-016-0046-z.
 Lynch, K. (2012). New managerialism as a political project: The Irish case. In K. Lynch, B. Grummell, & D.
Devine (Eds.), New managerialism in education: Commercialisation, carelessness, and gender. Lon- don:
Palgrave McMillan.
 Martha Nussbaum, Chapter 3 “Educating Citizens: The Moral (and Anti-Moral) Emotions” in Not for profit;
Why democracy needs the Humanities, New Jersey 2010, pp. 27 – 46
 McGarr, O. and Lynch, R., 2017. "Monopolising the STEM agenda in second-level schools: exploring power
relations and subject subcultures". International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 27(1), pp.
 Watson, A.D., and Watson, G.H. (2013), "Bonus article: transitioning STEM to STEAM: the reformation of
engineering education", Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol. 36 No. 3.