Ugandan Ruling Clique’s “Science versus Arts” debate is a function of ignorance

Gen. Museveni
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Gen. Yoweri Museveni who once said he's "the only" Ugandan with a vision. Photo: Facebook.

[Aluta Continua!]

Harold Acemah

The ruling clique of Uganda never ceases to amaze, amuse and offend in almost equal measure. A divisive, futile and sterile debate on Science vis-à-vis Arts subjects was renewed recently by Gen. Yoweri Museveni during events to commemorate World Teachers’ Day (WTD) on October 12 at Kololo Independence Grounds, Kampala. The theme for WTD 2021 is: “Teachers at the heart of education recovery.”

Science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Arts is the expression of application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

In many cases, such as the study of Politics, the boundary between Science and Arts is blurred. At many universities such as my alma mater, University of Toronto, the study of Politics is considered a science course while at Oxford University, where I was a Visiting Fellow in 1987, the study of Politics is considered an Arts course.

The ongoing debate on the alleged supremacy of Science courses and subjects reminds me of a classic book I read in the 1990s when I was a graduate student at University of Toronto, Canada. The book which according to the Times Literary Supplement is one of “the hundred most influential books since World War II” is titled, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and authored by the late Thomas S. Kuhn who was professor emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.

Unlike African politicians who dismiss and ridicule Arts subjects as useless, Thomas Kuhn who was originally a scientist, gives credit to history. The first chapter of his book first published in 1962 is titled, “Introduction: A Role for History;” the opening paragraph says it all.

“History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed. That image has previously been drawn, even by scientists themselves, mainly from the study of finished scientific achievements as these are recorded in the classics and, more recently, in the textbooks from which each new scientific generation learns to practice its trade.”

During the time he was writing the book, Kuhn spent a year in 1958/1959 at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences which opened his eyes to the Arts and Social Sciences. In the preface to the book he writes:

 “…spending a year in a community composed predominantly of social scientists confronted me with unanticipated problems about the differences between such communities and those of the natural sciences among whom I had been trained. Particularly, I was struck by the number and extent of the overt disagreements between social scientists about the nature of legitimate scientific problems and methods.”

“Both history and acquaintance made me doubt that practitioners of the natural sciences possess firmer or more permanent answers to such questions than their colleagues in social science.”

“Attempting to discover the source of that difference led me to recognize the role in scientific research of what I have since called ‘paradigms.’”

The point Kuhn makes eloquently is that it is a fallacy to draw a line in black and white between Arts and Science courses and subjects. It’s frankly only ignorant and mediocre people who erroneously think that Science subjects are superior to Arts subjects.

Against this background, a suggestion to pay Science teachers higher salaries than Arts teachers is ill-conceived, indefensible and unacceptable. In my opinion taxpayers money should not be wasted on a fraudulent proposal which will, in the long term, do more damage and harm than good.

Arua, Uganda.

October 23, 2021.  

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