I recently picked up The Fuzzy and the Techie by Scott Hartley. The subtitle of the book especially caught my attention: “Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World.” Given my own educational background as well as the part of TJ’s mission that speaks to giving students “the strongest possible academic background through a classical education,” it was not surprising that the book should appeal to me.
In his author’s note, Hartley explains that “fuzzy” and “techie” are terms “used to respectively describe students of the humanities and social sciences (i.e., the fuzzies) and students of the engineering or hard sciences (the techies) at Stanford University.” He goes on to say that “beneath these lighthearted appellations rest some charged opinions on the relative value of each type of degree, on the importance of the direct vocational application of a college degree, and on the appropriate role of education.”
At TJ, with our program of “classical education” (read: liberal arts), we are well acquainted with the opinions to which Hartley refers. One that we encounter frequently is the widely-held view, in Hartley’s words, that “those versed in the classical liberal arts are not well prepared for success in tomorrow’s technology-led economy because they do not have the requisite vocational skills in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.”
Hartley’s book aims to challenge that notion, based on a central point about students educated in the liberal arts: “I will argue that, on the contrary, they have knowledge and skills that are vital to the success in this fast-evolving economy.” He explains that “the timeless questions of the liberal arts, and their insights into human needs and desires, have become essential requirements in the development of our technological instruments.” And that “if we peer behind the veil of our greatest technology, we will see that is distinguished by its humanity.”
I find Hartley’s concluding statement in his introduction particularly compelling: “Finding solutions to our greatest problems requires an understanding of human context as well as of code; it requires both ethics and data, both deep thinking and Deep Learning AI, both human and machine; it requires us to question implicit biases in our algorithms and inquire deeply into not only just how we build, but why we build and what we seek to improve. Fuzzies and techies must come together and the true value of the liberal arts must be embraced as we continue to pioneer our new technological tools.“
Returning to the mission of this school, I firmly believe that our “classical” liberal arts curriculum, solidly grounded in the humanities and in STEM, prepares our students well for what they will encounter in higher education and beyond. The program is anything but a relic from a bygone age; on the contrary, we are constantly assessing its relevance and effectiveness in the here and now, and, to the extent we’re able, reimagining it into the future.
Hartley, Scott. The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World. New York: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2018)