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Great Scott! Why Florida's Governor Is Wrong to Promote Only STEM Education

Yet again, Florida Governor Rick Scott championed a shortsighted, harebrained policy that will harm Florida's economy and negatively impact citizens' lives.

by Tamara Watkins

In an effort to transform Florida's economy and draw businesses to the state, Governor Rick Scott announced that college students should abandon the humanities and social sciences to pursue degrees and careers in science, engineering, and math (or STEM). During a press conference, Scott asked, "How many more jobs do you think there is for anthropology in this state?" Scott, I'mma let you finish, but first I have to point out how hilarious it is that your statement criticizing education lacks subject-verb agreement. As his state is saddled with high unemployment, it makes sense that Scott would focus on repairing Florida's economy. Certainly telling college students their academic and career choices will lead to unemployment is a much better economic strategy than allowing the Department of Transportation to develop a high-speed rail system in his state. Why bring construction jobs to the state when one can deride the humanities and social sciences instead? Clearly only the latter will help Floridians find employment.

It's laudable that Scott wants make sure college graduates get jobs; however, his plan would be detrimental to both Florida's economy and, ultimately, the students who unnecessarily restricted their studies to conform to Scott's list of acceptable degrees. If Scott gets his wish and all Floridian college students earn STEM degrees, the science and tech job markets will be flooded with qualified applicants. A glut of STEMers in Florida would result in a number of STEM degree holders who cannot find employment, or cannot find employment in their chosen fields. In a worst case scenario, individuals in highly specialized fields will seek employment outside of Florida, leading to a brain drain that would further harm Florida's economic future. (Then again, who's to say all students who attend college in Florida will seek employment in Florida after graduation? I doubt that Scott considered this scenario.) At the same time, newly graduated Floridian students holding STEM degrees will be ineligible for thousands of jobs—including administrative support, editing, journalism, teaching—thanks to shortsighted Republican education policies. To remain competitive, Florida must not restrict its workforce to an unnecessarily narrow range of fields. It must foster an educational culture that values and promotes all degrees and career paths.

Scott's anti-humanities and social sciences bias would impact his constituents' economic futures in the long term, but it would immediately deprive Florida of a generation of students who elected to focus their education on language, thought, and culture. Students currently entering college came of age in post-9/11, social media-saturated America, a time when cross-cultural understanding, political literacy, and the ability to communicate clearly are valuable, marketable skills. Students with an aptitude and a keen interest in communication, politics, or another humanities or social sciences field would be doing themselves and their society a disservice by eschewing these fields and focusing solely on STEM. Humanities and social sciences disciplines prepare students to function as informed, knowledgeable citizens, giving them the tools to thoughtfully engage in their culture and in political dialog; all students, regardless of major, should explore the humanities and social sciences. However, given Scott's record, perhaps he's not terribly concerned with his constituents being involved in the political process.

In my experience, the humanities are often derided by individuals who don't understand that rigorous thought occurs outside of STEM fields. Students do not earn degrees in anthropology, English, history, philosophy, etc., because these disciplines are "easy," or because they couldn't hack it in a math or science program. Each college student reaches a point when she must choose to focus her education on a specific a field of study. She should choose a field based on what interests, challenges, and inspires her. Ultimately, education must be about the individual student setting and achieving academic goals and growing intellectually—even if that means ignoring Governor Scott's inaccurate, biased claims about the marketability of specific college degrees.

Tamara Watkins teaches college classes and semi-professionally gets angry about politics.
Image ©Kim Bone 2011.