Monday, March 31, 2008

On science and humanities...

There is an ad on television for Kissan's new health drink. The drink is called "Amaze Brain Food." The ad features a bunch of kids in a school. A voice-over asks who is going to be tomorrow's Einstein/Abdul Kalam/Sunita Williams/Narayanamurthy et. al. A point to be noted here is that the product is called "Brain Food" and the role models mentioned are all technical and scientific greats. The ad made me wonder why people like Sachin Tendulkar, Padma Subrahmaniam, Amartya Sen and M S Subbalakshmi had been left out. Their work requires no "brain power" perhaps? Wait a sec. I am not saying that dance or music require less intelligence than science. But, that's the only explanation I can think of when I try to justify the choice of role models. Can the bias against non-science disciplines be any more obvious? It irritates and even depresses me to see such an obvious bias against anyone who does not conform. In what way is Sunita Williams or Abdul Kalam better than Amartya Sen? Does his work not require intelligence and application of mind? Then why are we, as a society reinforcing and perpetrating the myth that science is somehow better than humanities?

My sixteen-year-old cousin firmly believes that the only way to do well in life is to do engineering. And too, only computer science engineering. All through my teenage years, I was told incessantly by my extended family and sometimes even my close relatives that the only way I could hope to live a good life was by getting into a good engineering college. Even medicine was discouraged because it takes longer to "get settled" in the profession. When I chose not to take the engineering entrance exams, my decision was met with a stoic but disapproving silence from all parts of the family. The only saving grace were my parents who simply let me do what I loved doing. Even later, after I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in History, I was actively encouraged to do a management course in the fond hope that I would get back into the mainstream and see the world "practically". Today, with a bachelor's degree in History, a Master's in French and a second Master's in International Relations, I still get free advice from anyone and everyone around me on how best I can get into the IT industry. I mean, give me a break! I don't want to get into the IT industry. Why does it not strike anyone that I might just enjoy being a teacher? I don't want a big fat pay packet and no time for myself or my friends and family. I want to live my life the way I deem it fit.

This general idea that science is somehow better than humanities is perpetrated in this discussion I found on Nita's blog. In the discussion, discussants have implied that being a science student is somehow better than being a non-science student. I hear all kinds of justifications for the statement. They process quantities better, they understand the industry better, they are more at ease with management roles...etc..etc... What I cannot understand is this. Is the worth of a human being measured only in terms of the quantity of money you make on your job? I earn, on an average, one-tenth that of an IT professional. So, I am in some way, inferior? What the hell? Even by that definition, I am probably paid more than the average IT professional if you looked at the per-hour fee I am paid. As a teacher of French I am paid nearly 200 rupees for every hour I work. If I were to work 10 hours a day, like anyone in the IT industry would, I would be making 2000 rupees every day. In a month, I would be making nearly 60,000 rupees, more than most IT professionals do in a month. Still think I am worth less?

Having said that, I think it's unfair to compare professions solely on the basis of the money people make. There are other things to life. Like love, like enjoyment, like interest, like hobbies and like the desire to do something different. Not all children need to become tomorrow's Abdul Kalam or Einstein to be successful. If they do, it's great. But, if they don't manage it. If they prefer to take the less-trodden path, are we not, as a society responsible for giving them the support and encouragement they deserve? I think we need to change. For the better.

4 comments:

Roop Rai said...

fully agree.

Nita said...

Money is definitely one of the reasons why people value science more, but there could be another reason. I feel this because at one time in India, maybe about 30-40 years ago, the money professions were not respected as much. Businessmen were not respected the way they are today. It was people with high academic attainment who were.
I think one of the reasons is that the Humanities education in our Indian univs is not up to the mark. You see the Humanities students, they work less hard. It is not always so in good univs. I did my English Lit. from Miranda House and we had classes almost the whole day. Plus we had to do a lot of research work and analysis. When I told my friends who were in other cities, they were surprised that an Eng Lit students needs to attend college at all! In fact 1-2 hours a day is what is the norm in many colleges across India. Teaching is poor.
Science education in India is better.
Well, this sort of gives the impression that Humanities students don't work or don't need to work. This is far from the truth. Hopefully our Humanities education improves. Anyway, this is just one of the reasons...

Thought Room said...

Hi

i came across this blog when I was doing random blog search, and this topic came close to what I experienced. My father always wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer. I did not mind being a doctor, but what with all the reservation, and me being average in studies, I did not stand a chance. I down right refuced to take up engineering. Math was not my cup of tea. He was very disappointed. I was more interested in the arts field, but did not have any information, on what carrier I could persue, though I vaguely knew that advertising was a good way to go. My father would have none of it, and I was quickly enrolled in am microbiology programme in college. I did enjoy the field very much, and even worked as a micobiologist for a research firm. But I never gave up my dream. I soon gave up the profession and enrolled in an amimation programme. To this day I enjoy every thing about my new profession, and will not change it for the world.

L. said...

I completely agree. I'm just starting up my PhD in ancient philosophy and classics at a top british university, and even though I am so excited about my course and I love my research and love teaching (it's all I want to do!), I keep getting depressed when people think it's completely useless. I don't know how to make them understand. Philosophy is taught at every major university, and every undergrad has to take at least one course in ancient, let alone whole degrees that are in it. But like you said, even if it WAS uncommon and vague, why should it matter to other people, as long as we enjoy it and are happy and feel like we are doing something worthwhile? And we are--education in the humanities is essential. I get so discouraged though, when I hear people rave about so-and-so who's studying medicine. What do you guys do when others don't seem to understand?