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Jack Woehr

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Jules Verne, Comp Sci Education, and the Humanities

July 27, 2009

I'm just finishing up the "lost" Jules Verne sci fi opus, Paris in the 20th Century. Verne's publisher Hetzl, having just printed Five Weeks in a Balloon, refused the manuscript. He was put off by Verne's 1960 Paris (100 years in the future), where people spoke in neologisms cointed from technical pursuits (!!) and seemed to have abandoned the arts for the sciences,a truly phillistine Paris made over in the image of ... America (yes, the French made sport of us even in 1863).

Verne got a lot of things wrong. The Paris commuter trains run underground today, not elevated as Verne envisioned. Working people in the 20th century's industrial society didn't shun painting and sculpture, they gobbled them up voraciously and uncritically to the degree they could afford them.

But Verne was correct in the major theme of the book, to wit, that the industrial and technological advances of the 20th century would lead to a neglect of the humanities in the educational system.

Many young professionals whom society today views as educated seem unable to distinguish bald assertion from presenting a proposition and proving it. They seem never to have read enough literature of previous centuries to recognize that it is a tenet of western civilization that one listen respectfully to and subsequently credit as worthy of consideration a debate opponent's position.

O, young technorati, (or even old technorati, many of whom come to mind as I think of persons desperately in need of some quality time reading non-technical literature): pursue ye the humanities!

Think you're going to be big stuff in the tech world? Read Sinclair Lewis (Babbit). Read Balzac (Eugenie Grandet). Read Zola (Money), or Thackeray (Vanity Fair), or Trollope (The Way We Live Today).

Think you're smart? Read the Bible. Read Plutarch's Lives of Famous Greeks and Romans, or his essay "On Becoming Aware of Moral Growth". Read George Fox, George MacDonald, or the adult science fiction novels of C. S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength).

Wonder where the world is going? Read history: Tacitus, Suetonius, Gibbon. Harry S Truman, (with a bare high school diploma yet possibly the best-educated and best-prepared U.S. president of the 20th century), said the study of history aided a man of affairs because "circumstances change constantly, but human nature doesn't change very much".

Tech you can swot up off the web after you graduate. Take advantage of those golden undergraduate years of extended adolescence to study the humanities!

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