About What It Takes: Assumptions About Skill Sets in the Humanities and Sciences

And here is Ulrike’s second post. I was one of those who had in effect to choose between sciences and humanities aged 15, despite (in my case) having a facility in both. As you’ll have realised, I’ve tried on and off ever since to keep scientifically literate, and am presently trying to up my maths from what is now called AS to A2. The logical underpinning of maths has aleays fascinated me (I read Russell and then Hoftstadter as a student) but never got into the detail of more than basic calculus, vectors, sets and the rest. Not so easy at 63!

Ordered Universe

20140320_10553120140320_105649From relatively early on in school, young people start to think of themselves as ‘more sciency’ or ‘more of a humanities or languages person’. With these two poles, to one of which many students sooner or later find themselves gravitating, we tend to associate different personality attributes and skills. For humanities subjects, creative and outside-the-box thinking is deemed to be important, and we tend to expect people in the humanities to have a vivid imagination and maybe also an elaborate, ornate writing style. For the natural sciences, by contrast, we assume that what’s needed is sharpness and coherence of thought, quickness of the mind, and maybe most importantly, good quantitative reasoning skills.

Of course, these assumptions about what it takes to be a good science or humanities student, and about what challenges the sciences vs. humanities have on offer, are broad-brush characterisations of stereotypes regarding the humanities and sciences skill…

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