Mr. Bowie, an English and Social Studies teacher, talks about his personal opinions regarding the relationship between the humanities and the sciences.
While achieving high grades in the sciences in high school, Mr. Bowie felt intensely passionate about the humanities throughout his studies. After studying a range of subjects in university, Mr. Bowie felt unwilling to let go of the subjects that he loved, compounded with a desire to share his knowledge with others, led him to pursue a career in teaching.
On the differences between his best subject in high school (Biology) and his current interests in the humanities, Mr. Bowie outlines the fundamental difference between how these subjects are taught and assessed in schools:
“Biology, I find, is based on factual information. You learn the structure of cells, about zoology and all that sort of stuff. And then you answer questions about how these things work. They say, ‘Here’s how it works,’ and you either get it all right or get it wrong. There’s sort of a benchmark of correctness that you could follow, whereas with the humanities like History and English and Classics, you’d be writing essays, making arguments. You would be putting your points forward, putting yourself forward. It’s all about perspective, rather than fact. It’s about how closely you can thoroughly and convincingly answer a question based on your ideas, and not about how much information you can cram into your head. It’s a whole different style of thinking.”
However, despite these views, science requires as much engagement as the humanities do:
“I think that’s kind of the irony–at least how I was taught science at school. When you think about what drives science, it’s all about driving humanity forward; it’s about thinking and answering these questions that the humanities have sought to answer. It’s an entirely creative process. Science is a very creative field, but I think that it is taught in a more prescriptive way that stifles creativity, whereas the humanities encourages that creativity.”
Indeed, Mr. Bowie sums up his opinions on how the sciences and humanities are perceived as and how they should be:
“The tragedy is that the two are seen as separate. You need to categorise subjects into the humanities and the sciences, whereas I think that they are closely related, especially in the real world. When you do research you need to make creative decisions and convincing personal conclusions based on your data and analysis, which is totally tied to English essays. You do the same thing. The separation between them is actually quite artificial. It doesn’t help.”
Regarding how students should approach the humanities, especially English, Mr. Bowie gives the following advice:
“Have faith in your interpretation. Everything you feel about a text you study is correct. But your task is to explain how you feel as thoroughly as you can, with as much evidence as you can, linking them to prove your interpretation. It’s not so much about asking ‘Is this correct?’ and ‘Can I say this?’ It’s more about your personal reactions to it. You don’t have to enjoy a text, at all. You can thoroughly dislike your text, and that’s absolutely fine. You can still get an ‘A’ or an ‘A*’ even if you do. What you have to do is engage with it. ‘Here’s why I don’t like this text, and here’s why I think that Demetrius is actually a hero in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ ‘Here’s why Gatsby is the worst figure in American fiction.’ Everything you say is valid; you just have to prove it. So don’t ask ‘Can I say it?’, say ‘Here’s my interpretation and here’s why.’ Persuasiveness is the key.”
With many students sharing a disregard for the humanities in today’s world, perhaps the humanities and the arts shouldn’t be seen as inferior options. As Mr. Bowie believes, and rightly so, the difference between them is a social construct. To do well in the sciences requires a solid understanding of the principles underlying the humanities. While the current education system may not treat them as one network of continuous knowledge, in real life, an understanding of the humanities is a distinctive and attractive advantage to possess.
Find Mr. Bowie in Upham for more insight and opinions about (virtually) everything in life.
Written by: Justin Chen. Edited by: Saffron Huang.