End divide between arts, science

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End divide between arts, science

Men and women live on different planets, according to the famous relationship book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” Author John Gray wrote that women associate with love, intimacy and conversation, while men are more familiar with efficiency, effectiveness and accomplishment. A man feels satisfied when he attains an objective while a woman is content when she shares her feelings. The book warns that resentment can built up and eventually give rise to hatred if men and women do not recognize their differences.

In Korean society, there are two groups of people who seem to come from different planets: liberal arts majors and science majors.

I once attended an aptitude counseling session in Gangnam, southern Seoul.

“Let’s say we are having a snowstorm,” said the counsellor. “Those who have an aptitude for liberal arts would appreciate the beauty of the snow, while those with a science aptitude would examine its crystalline structure. Math and science majors are logical, while the liberal arts majors are emotional.”

The students and parents attending the session seemed to be convinced by the dichotomy.

As we all know, gender is determined by sex chromosomes. It is either XX or XY, with very rare exceptions of XXY and XYY. But aptitude cannot be divided into two groups. There are a range of aptitudes between the extremes. However, the education system tries to divide young students into two groups - liberal arts majors and science majors. Once you choose one in the first year of high school, that classification determines your choice of studies, areas of work and your life as a whole. Once you are placed in a planet, it is extremely hard to escape its orbit.

I don’t want to completely ignore the benefits of separating these areas. It is far easier for high schools and colleges to offer curriculums and admissions when they are separated. Companies also divide their workforces into two, between administrative and engineering jobs. By creating a focus early on, workers gain enhanced skills and experience. Sticking to one area of expertise had clear benefits in a person’s growth and development period.

However, society and industry have changed. This is a time for innovation and creativity. When arts and technology, liberal arts and sciences are combined, they all become more powerful. Cognitive science, robotics and artificial intelligence, big data, brain science and cultural technology are industries and studies that span the divide between liberal arts and science.

People have made regular arguments for abolishing this division. The new curriculum implemented in 2002 eliminated the titles “liberal arts” and “science” in high school. However, colleges still select students separately and high schools offer strictly separated curriculums. Politicians also debate the issue constantly. In the 2007 presidential campaign, Chung Dong-young, Kwon Yeong-ghil and Moon Kook-hyun all supported abolishing the division between liberal arts and science, while Lee Myung-bak wanted to review the system carefully. No political leader openly opposed the idea removing the division.

In November 2012, Seoul National University’s Future Education Planning Committee suggested that it would be desirable to select new students without dividing between liberal arts and science. Many intellectual groups and media supported the proposal, and a few months later, the committee submitted a final report to the university.

However, Seoul National University did not adopt the suggestion. An inside source said that the issue was brought up at a board meeting, but the directors thought it would not be easy to introduce the new system considering its impact on students and educational system.

We already have a consensus on why the division of the liberal arts and science should end. The problem is always who will tie the bell on a cat’s neck. The educational authorities, universities and politicians have been postponing the decision and let the problem grow.

The issue has surfaced once again with the Ministry of Education’s announcement that it is considering tearing down the division between liberal arts and science concentrations beginning with the 2017 College Scholastic Ability Test. The division needs to end to embrace the future. Imagine demanding a student choose between Mars and Venus in our ultra-wired society. It is a strange and outdated notion. Science majors from Mars and liberal arts majors from Venus will need a new planet in the future.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyu-youn

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