First, let’s not pretend that an ENS, JG, LT, or even RADM isn’t better or worse because of the degree they have. Secondly, let’s not pretend that the degree one earns determines who they are as a person–let’s not be education deterministic. Thirdly, there’s a nascent form of literacy emerging that combines both hard and soft sciences, and the Navy is largely ignoring it.
You walk through my door as a newly minted non-prior service ensign and I’m not going to care what school or what degree you earned from that school–you know nothing just like every other ensign in the Fleet. This isn’t a slight, this is a reality. All that is going to matter to me, to the LCPO, and to the rest of the guys in the division, is whether or not you’re a pleasure to serve with. There isn’t much more to belabor in this regard. As an officer with a STEM degree, you’re not going to be the one doing any of the labor that your education informed you how to do. You’re supervising at best, or drowning in administrative duties for the division that you know nothing about, because no one gets a college education in “Naval Administration.” What’s more, is that despite anything you learned from a college, you’re still going to have to get through your career field’s warfare pin qualifications before your superiors trust you to do the job. Your education only got you to OCS, or to your commissioning date, and the distinctions between where you chose to go to school are negligible to me, and non-existent to your most junior sailors.
Reading the words of officers in this ongoing degree debate strikes me as parochial and based in little more than confirmation bias. We all want to be emulated, we all want to champion the bits of wisdom we’ve picked up along the way. The path we’ve taken we know best, and so we can recommend it, as being so familiar to us. Neither side, neither the STEM-guys nor the liberal arts guys have much going for them to detract from the efficacy of the other guy’s degree. ‘With a liberal arts degree, one should be able to reason through the challenges inherent in emerging technologies.’ Or, ‘with a STEM degree, one understands the nuance, direction, and technical details of technologies, and the likelihood of its success.’ Those are both true statements. But, the reality is, that neither type of degree confers the wisdom required to actually make such a call unless years have been spent in the naval service learning exactly what the Navy is, how it works, and all it’s quirks–a degree confers no wisdom, just the greater ability to obtain wisdom, eventually. ‘Degree determinism’ is a red herring, a 23 year old is not yet complete as an individual nor as a sailor. Who they eventually grow to become is arguably more influenced by their naval experience than their undergrad experience (unless you’re an aviator, then you never grow up… heh.).
This isn’t an either-or debate. Quite frankly, it’s a false dichotomy, as indicated by the emergence of numerous multidisciplinary fields of study. A prime examples of which is Computational Social Science and Artificial Intelligence. Where the parameters of society and the mind, as defined by the soft sciences, are incorporated into programming and hardware design, that are rooted in hardware and software engineering. Advances in this field are indicative of the STEM-Liberal Arts dichotomy being false in an academic sense, but also demonstrate how the same dichotomy is false in terms of the Navy; where a junior officer has to manage people, and master their career field, and understand the nature of the technology which they will be responsible for.
Like the title of this blog states. No one asked me what I think, and as an enlisted guy, what I think doesn’t matter much. But, the multitude of voices jumping into the fray regarding this topic has kept it on my mind.
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