The Arts versus The Sciences I Oxford Open Learning

The Arts versus The Sciences


Science and Art: The Dial of Venus around the Sun, as drawn by Leonardo De Vinci.

Every so often someone like me receives an absolute gift of a story. It happened to me just recently. Someone in authority recommended that school students studied science and maths subjects rather than the arts and humanities in order to get a job. This is of course revives a debate which has been going on in education for years, if not decades: The arts or the sciences? Prepare for employment or do something else in schools.

The beauty of this debate of is of course that there is no right or wrong. Testament to this is the fact that whole schools, at times even the education system itself, have been designed around one set or beliefs or another.

So what’s the problem? Well, at the moment we have what is in effect a national education system. This means that generally speaking anyone should be able to go to any school and receive roughly the same education because of the national curriculum. But obviously this is a tall order. Think of the differences between people, even those you know – never mind those you don’t – ,of their different personalities, interests, desires and ambitions. Add to that the different things they might want to do with their lives, including what jobs they may or may not do and you see the problem. How can any one system provide for all of them? You can see the temptation to alter at least the emphasis of what goes on in schools. And these days the search for differences can end up with such things as Studio schools and University technical colleges.

So are the arts and the sciences really so different? I expect at many schools the differences are quite clear. You’ll be used to painting and drama as against chemistry and mathematics. And maybe you prefer one or the other. Maybe your ideal job is about one ‘side’ or another. But are there not crossovers? Immediately after the announcement there were letters in the papers about the interconnectedness of the arts and science and the very real importance of each, etc. For instance, the famous painter Leonardo De Vinci designed machines using mathematical principles. Painters always used to know the chemistry of their paints. Similarly, the Welcome Trust funds collaborations between artists and scientists to further the work of both.

Do we not need both, then? Perhaps they simply represent different kinds of thinking. Can they not both be made interesting and worthwhile to learners? Lastly, but by no means least, are they not both vital to our economy and the country?

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I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!

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