The Myth of STEM

Another of the somewhat vague concepts currently popular here in the overly-large school district (and many other places) is STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. Subject areas that many politicians and other education experts declare American kids should studying more.

They tell us this is important since the US has a growing shortage of scientists, engineers and other so-called STEM professions. Failure to emphasize those skills in our work force will have any number of disastrous economic and social consequences. Or something like that.

But what if those claims are false? What if the STEM crisis is a myth?

That’s the thesis of a feature story in the IEEE Spectrum, a journal published by a large organization of electrical engineers. The writer says that that predictions of impending shortages of scientists and engineers are nothing new, citing statements going back almost 100 years. In addition, he’s also found many studies directly contradicting those claims.

He makes a good, well documented case that the call to add tens of thousand of new STEM degrees to the US work force may not be necessary or even productive. The article is well worth a read.1

However, does that mean the current efforts to push more STEM topics (which we are trying to morph into STEAM, adding arts to the mix) in the K12 curriculum are completely wrong?

The idea is probably no better or worse than anything else on the long list of somewhat vague, single focus ideas being pushed by ed reformers as a solution to our “failing” school system in this country.2

Certainly, as the author points out in his conclusion, more STEM couldn’t hurt. He notes that there is very much a “STEM knowledge shortage” in the US3 and it’s not necessary to push students into a degree program to improve their understanding of science and technology issues.

But I wonder, what ever happened to the original concept of K12 education, especially high school: giving students the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects, including not-STEM, before settling on one specific area to study in depth after graduation. Is it really necessary to channel kids into a career field before they are even old enough to drive?


1 The comments are also an intelligent extension to the discussion, far above the quality found on most general news and gossip sites like the Huffington Post.

2 “Failing schools” is also something of a myth, certainly when applied to every area of the country as a whole.

3 Seemingly emanating from the Texas State School Board.

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