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Stem, Empathy And The Need For Soft Skills

March 6, 2018

It is a paradox in our modern world that we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom (E.O Wilson)

The beginning of every year we begin each RE class from Years 9 – 12 with a question. Why do we study RE? What is its value? Many students and parents at the Senior Level wonder why they should be expected to study RE when Maths is and will be the focus of their lives and vocations. Probably the only other subject whose worth is interrogated so intently is Maths. The study of Mathematics arose out of religious and philosophical thinking. Pythagoras’ academy in Ancient Greece, for example was both a centre for mathematical and spiritual exploration. Fortunately, the RE and Maths Departments have shared common ground. A student with an appreciation for Maths, Science and Technology will appreciate the contribution that meaning and ethical dimensions play in those areas. Indeed, our top students last year were top students in Maths, Science and RE. Like the great Christian Mathematicians before them they were able to integrate their faith and their intellect and find meaning, purpose and an ethical framework for living with wisdom and understanding.

Both Maths and RE share a history of critical, creative and analytical thinking and philosophical interrogation. Maths requires proofs to support theorems, and RE requires evidence to support claims. Maths and RE demand questioning, with the same rigour and intensity, applied to different contexts and problems. Both disciplines seek truth. Both RE and Maths promote wonder, truth and an appreciation of beauty. If you have seen Fibonacci sequences you would have appreciated the wonder and beauty of nature expressed in fractal patterns found in such objects as flowers and snowflakes

Four men who perhaps did as much as any to revolutionise the mathematical sciences in the 16th and 17th Centuries, CopernicusKeplerGalileo and Newton, were all deeply religious Christians. For Kepler, a devout Christian, mathematics was itself a religious undertaking. He wrote in Harmonice Mundi (1619):

Geometry existed before the creation; is co-eternal with the mind of God; is God himself … Where there is matter there is geometry. … geometry provided God with a model for the Creation and was implanted into man, together with God’s own likeness – and not merely conveyed to his mind through the eyes. … It is absolutely necessary that the work of such a Creator be of the greatest beauty…

Kepler also said that the chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”

Fides Et Ratio is an encyclical promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 14 September 1998. It explored the nature of faith and reason and the interconnectedness of the religious and the scientific.

Pope John Paul II begins the encyclical, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves” (n. 1).

Our knowledge and pursuit of learning in any subject can lead to discovering purpose and meaning in our lives. Many students and their parents see more value in STEM subjects than in subjects such as SOSE and RE. STEM subjects are increasingly seen as having the capacity to solve the world’s problems and save us from destruction. Is STEM simply making a God of technology? Is there a place for the studies that bring attention to what it means to be human, how to relate to others, how to promote human dignity and how to be stewards of God creation. Human beings need to be nurtured, find meaningful relationships with others and acknowledge their spiritual needs. Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit scientist reminds us that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Even technological giants these days recognise the profound importance of human relationships in their workplaces. In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by analyzing data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs. (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/20/the-surprising-thing-google-learned-about-its-employees-and-what-it-means-for-todays-students/)

Google’s finding is consistent with the views of the employer-led Partnership for 21st Century Learning who describe the foundation skills for worker success as the 4Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. The book Becoming Brilliant adds to those four content and confidence to make 6Cs. (http://www.p21.org/ )

The Washington Post recently reported that the most important skills for life, were broad skills related to the ability to work with others, think critically and be a lifelong learner. The kind of skills that are best built with a broad liberal arts education – one that includes Humanities, including SOSE, English, Drama and Religious Education.

There is no disconnect between RE, Maths and STEM. They are part of a spectrum our curriculum which addresses the needs of the whole person.

Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott wrote a poem in 1972 in the form of a letter to teachers

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is this: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

May we all strive to help our children understand what it means to be human, created in the image and likeness of God, with dignity. It takes a village to raise a child. In a school that village is the collaboration of all faculties, encouraging each child to develop the skills that Google, future employers and future relationships will depend on: compassion, collaboration, confidence, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, empathy, problem solving and communication.

Developing our humanity challenges us to reflect on the importance of being, being in the present and being present to others. It is a challenge to be still and attentive to ourselves, our relationships and God’s call in our daily lives. Technology very often drowns out the still small voice of God inviting us to be present and attentive to his love. Our liturgical theme for 2018 is “Be still and know that I am God’. It invites to contemplate the wonder and love of God for creation and ourselves. It calls us to integrate our intellectual, spiritual and physical pursuits into developing a meaningful and purposeful relationship with God and others. Faith needs stillness and silence in order to grow. Technology has given us opportunities for advancement but silence and stillness allow us to reflect on whether this advancement is encouraging us to become better human beings or simply distracting us from really being.



Faith and Reason Fides et ratio https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/education/catholic-contributions/fides-et-ratio-faith-and-reason.html

http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Indexes/Hist_Topics_alph.html Mathematical and religious thinking

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYVGKCR0tE4 View the universe in a grain of sand (by practising the art of attention/mindfulness/observation





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