STEAM: Don’t Stop With Just Adding an A

It’s pretty hard not to notice that STEM – standing for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – has become a pretty popular shorthand among parts of the education reform movement. It ties into reports that the US may not be producing enough graduates in those fields and thus is another reason why the economy is so screwed up. Or something like that.

Now come proposals to turn STEM into STEAM by adding the arts into the mix.

“There is creativity in STEM itself, super genius in it, … but in arts education, it really is the raison d’etre to be out of the box, to accept the chaos,” said John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence.

Artists and designers, he said, are “risk takers, they can think around corners.”

Hard to argue with that but why stop with the arts?

Work in science, engineering and the rest are not isolated to the US so it’s important that students understand other cultures and maybe even speak their languages.

Creating new technologies also requires an understanding how society has interacted with changes in the past, as well as something about the political and cultural context of today. So, throw social studies into the mix.

Certainly STEM people need to be able to write effectively in order to explain their concepts to the business people and laymen who will use them.

Keep iterating this process enough and you wind up with what used to be called a “liberal education”, the concept that student should graduate from their K12 experience with a general understanding of the breadth of human knowledge. Enough to be able to decide what fields they might want to specialize in the next stage of their education.

As for STEM, I’m not sure focusing the undergraduate curriculum on technical topics is any better than the extremely narrow concentration on reading and math (really just rote arithmetic skills) we have now, the consequence of teaching only what is tested.

2 thoughts on “STEAM: Don’t Stop With Just Adding an A

  • December 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm
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    “Keep iterating this process enough and you wind up with what used to be called a ‘liberal education.'”

    Yes, and that’s what bugs me about the use of STEAM to represent some alliance between the STEM fields and the creative arts fields. STEM as an acronym signifies that there are certain commonalities among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics when it comes to teaching and learning those subjects. It represents a certain affinity group, and expanding that group to include other disciplines renders it less useful as a named group.

    It’s important that STEM people work across disciplines with those in the creative arts, humanities, and social sciences. But disciplinary differences really do matter and working across them is challenging. STEM, as an acronym, is a reminder of that, while also an encouragement that those with the STEM fields can collaborate more easily than is often the case in practice.

    STEM+A has value, but STEAM just makes it seem like there aren’t important disciplinary differences between STEM and the arts.

    Reply
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