Sometimes I think for weeks about the topic for this column and other times I panic because nothing seems “big” enough. This month I got STEAMed up and just sat down to rant a little.
In the 1990’s the National Science Foundation brought to the surface a critical problem that was just under the surface of the public consciousness. As our lives were becoming more and more technologically sophisticated and more and more of our citizens were graduating college there was a tremendous skill gap developing. The need for graduates with analytic skills was skyrocketing while the number of graduates with these skills was shrinking. Students were not interested in the hard majors like math, chemistry, physics or engineering. In fact, coming out of high school they weren’t even prepared with the skills necessary to take these courses of instruction.
In response the NSF and others generated new science and math standards (no not common core) and began to build an awareness of the criticality of developing these skills in our students to get them ready for 21st century jobs. They coined term “STEM” which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. By the year 2000 every educator was discussing how to improve educational outcomes in STEM fields and how to make all students better prepared with STEM skills. In fact, in 2009 President Barack Obama even discussed the importance of improving these skills in his state of the union address. He said…
“We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the Space Race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science.”
He further drives us to action stating,
“Through this commitment, American students will move… from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade – for we know that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to that goal. The folks in the arts got there noses bent out of shape. “Why is everyone focused on STEM?” they would say, “the arts are important too!”
And while I won’t deny that the arts are important, there doesn’t seem to be a crisis in art education. Do we really need more unemployed art graduates? It isn’t a national security issue. Employers aren’t fighting over art graduates the way that they are over engineering and hard science graduates. But as is typical when a group gets whiny everyone tries to appease them. So you are starting to see a subtle shift from “STEM” to “STEAM”. A very clear message of trying to get students to do something hard that will reward them and their country in the long run is made muddy so that everyone can feel good.
I am “STEAMed” up.