Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or more colloquially, STEM), get most of the attention in discussions around the “future of education.” Providing innovative spaces for young men to explore cutting edge ideas was a priority in establishing the school’s new Yawkey Center for Integrated & Applied Learning. In the words of President Dr. Peter Folan, when you think CM, “think Catholic school on the outside and Google on the inside.”
But here, we also believe that innovation should extend well into the arts and humanities, too. CM students conduct experiments with the scientific method and dissect the lines of Shakespeare; they learn to code as well as to analyze a historical primary source. This is how boys develop into well-rounded scholars and men of character.
Despite this, it still begs us to ask: Today, do the humanities truly deserve this equal footing? We invited two faculty members, history teacher Mr. Vin Bradley and Latin teacher Mr. Brian Clark, as well as a pair of exceptionally well-rounded seniors, Ben Kimball, who will be attending Duke University, and Gage Muhammad, who will be attending Hampton University, to share how their experiences inform this question.
CM Magazine (CM): Let's start by establishing a framework. What do “the humanities” mean to you?
Mr. Vin Bradley, Social Studies Department Chair & Head of CM’s Model UN (VB): I think the humanities, whether it's history, English, theology, languages — you're pursuing the ability to speak well, to write well, to communicate with other people. And I think to develop what's in your heart and what's in your mind. The humanities are really a compass, a search for truth. And you know, you're trying to elucidate what is worth living for within the world.
Gage Muhammad ’21 (GM): I definitely agree, I feel like the humanities within themselves are how far we've come as a society and how well we can function. And while we're talking about all these different topics, it’s just about what we do as humans. We question. That's our number one thing that's been driving us since the start of the wheel, questioning and questioning and really trying to figure out what else is out there for us.
Mr. Brian Clark, Latin Teacher & Director of the Scholars Program (BC): Gage, I think you put it perfectly when you said, it's how far we've come. Science, you mostly study the most current things, right, the most updated areas. But with humanities, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. The greatest empires that have existed, the biggest monuments we've built, the greatest books ever written. That stuff never loses its value. We keep returning to it as a foundation on which to build. And there's a whole puzzle. You need the history, with the literature, with the language, with the political theory. You can't just study in isolation, but really, it’s the whole scope of studying what we built as humans over the centuries.
Ben Kimball ’21 (BK): You took the words out of my mouth; I was going to mention how far we've come. To me, compared to science, it’s the study of experience and how experience got us here. Studying those things that are inherent in the human condition and figuring out why they're there, what's going on with them.
CM: So we’re talking about how far we’ve come, how we’ve progressed as a society. And we’ve made remarkable progress over the centuries, mainly in the realms of science and technology. Do you see the relevance of the humanities keeping pace with those advances?
Ben: As human capability has increased, the good we can do has increased exponentially with technology. So has the bad we can do. Now more than ever, the humanities are needed to decipher what is good, what is bad, and how do you incentivize humans to act in that good way?
Brian: Even if the scale of the bad we can do has changed, the bad is still fundamentally the same, right? Taking life, trespassing other people. If you look back to the Bible with Cain and Abel, brother killing brother; then the foundation of Rome, Remus is the same thing. So, we get these cautionary tales throughout the humanities of, here's what happens when you go way too far, when you try to move from being human to being a God or from being an equal with everyone else to being someone above. I view the humanities as a kind of restraining force sometimes, right – look at these examples in the past and see, where do people go off the rails?
Vin: I love that, it’s tradition and those stories, those narratives, those great insights into character. Whether it's Homer or classics about human nature – what moves people still applies today. I think the humanities certainly can help in terms of building a strong democracy and a strong civil society. If you look at the world today, China and Russia are really good at technology. They're also really good at taking over other territories, whether it's Crimea or Hong Kong. So just because you're excellent at that one aspect of intellectual achievement doesn't mean necessarily that you have the values that will respect other people's dignity.
Gage: Only we as humans can decide collectively what's good and what's bad. For example, we don't necessarily all agree on certain political topics, but we can all agree that hurting someone isn't the best action we can do. And I think that's part of studying our underlying nature, our underlying laws. We can all find a middle ground in some way, and it's finding that middle ground that makes us human.
CM: Through your different day-to-day experiences, what does the study of humanities look like at CM?
Brian: With my Latin classes, we really strive to give the students a 3D view of the ancient world. We could just drill grammar all the time and leave it as text on the page, but we spend time studying archaeology, history, battle tactics, the major players, temples, ancient sculptures, the gods. Really giving the students a whole new view of everything. You can't study language in a vacuum, and I found in my classes the students really get energized when they see the whole picture.
Vin: We have students who come from over 90 different neighborhoods and towns and cities, and I think we have a tremendous advantage here in terms of the things that we're able to do, particularly because of our location. One of the projects the history department took on the last couple of years is working with the archdiocese to digitize different baptismal records. We work for them to take these old baptismal records from 100 years ago, 120 years ago, and students learned essential historical skills of analyzing primary documents. How do you interpret those? Then they were able to digitize them, which I think is great, so projects like that serve the public interest.
Gage: I feel like being a CM student and learning from this institution, it's almost like the faculty are teaching us to be a Swiss Army knife when it comes to these topics. We're not just thinking about the standard questions; we're trying to go further. I know being a participant of your class, Mr. Bradley, you don't just ask the generic questions like, oh, what happened on this day? It's, what happened that affected the people around us? What was the ideology behind the motive? I think that's the beauty of your class and learning about history.
Ben: I also think CM does a good job of keeping it real world. I mean, we're always living the humanities as long as we're pretty much breathing and existing. I know with history class, doing the model parliaments and the model congresses, and in theology, actually going out and doing service – doing those things and seeing how to live a life informed by the humanities is taking it to the next level. I know a lot of my friends at other schools didn't really have opportunities to do so. I'm very I'm grateful for that.
CM: Let’s close by looking forward. How will studying the humanities help us in the future?
Vin: We often focus on engineering or computer programming, but a recent study out of Georgetown University says those who pursue the humanities and major in the humanities actually receive an enormous return on an investment in terms of careers, as well. And that’s because of the ability to think clearly, the ability to write, the ability to communicate ethical considerations, which companies always need more of. People who get involved in the humanities are very flexible. You students are likely to have 11, 12, 13 jobs within your career over 40 years, and so you have to be able to adapt and learn and take new things in. I think that's what the humanities teach.
Ben: I think they draw the line for the future of what is human, and what do we do with that. I think those are the two questions that humanities set out to answer. Looking in the past for that knowledge is important because the past isn't arbitrary; that knowledge isn't changing. Taking that knowledge and applying it to the future when the stakes are going to be raised exponentially – that's why it's necessary.
Brian: Humanities really show through the future of science, too. What are the implications of giving better medicine to a patient? How does their quality of life improve in a certain way? The reason why we do science is to better human society…human civilization. Without having the humanities as a backdrop to ground that foundation, scientists are screaming into the void. Using humanities give it meaning, give test cases where you can apply the science.
Gage: I know the best part about Catholic Memorial and why I've come here is to learn how to be a better human. And humanities push the younger generation to evolve, to make this world better than what it is. Studying the humanities here, they show that we are capable of something great. We are capable of building on what other CM Knights have done and will do in the future.