Last week, at the NAIS Annual Conference, Cathy Davidson made a somewhat offhand remark in her keynote that by focusing on STEM in our schools, we’re going to raise a generation of kids who hate STEM thinking. Though I loved her entire keynote, that’s the thing that really stuck with me and I wanted to find out more about why she said that.
In a piece published in the Washington Post last year, Davidson and others argue that “[s]cience and technology are meaningful when interwoven with all of the other modes of learning. A STEM, without its bloom, quickly withers in the forest of everyday life.” Amazingly true – think of all the arguments for reconsidering the way we think of technology use in our schools, how it needs to be more transparent, ubiquitous, and purposeful, like the pencil is. As amazing as I think computers are, they’re nothing unless they’re used to engage and create. Much less my forte, I think science is the same way. Science is amazing because of what it makes possible and how it literally makes up everything around us. If I studied any of the sciences with that in mind instead of as independent disciplines, I bet it would make much more sense to me. And don’t even get me started on math. Even though it pains me to say it, the real world relevance and applications of math can’t be disputed. We need to start treating independent disciplines more like interconnected puzzle pieces, coming together to provide the full picture, instead of separate puzzles in their own right.
With the nation’s focus on STEM , it’s easy to think that the things that every school should focus on are science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s happening at the school that I work at, where a very specific STEM initiative has been rolled out this year, with plans to increase its footprint in the coming years. But STEM isn’t enough. Those subjects aren’t enough. So we throw a little arts in and we get STEAM. And then we decide to throw a little wRiting (or is it reading?) in there to get STREAM. When does it stop? We’re going to run out of words to morph that concept into. Shouldn’t we be rethinking this very narrow emphasis?
The warning from Davidson and her colleagues to everyone infatuated with cultivating science and math teachers is clear:
How shortsighted it would be if our nation’s community colleges — so busy right now gearing up to provide the necessary training in STEM subjects — are unable to supply these men and women with exposure to the literature and history that might help them face life’s obstacles.
I can’t think of many people who don’t want to see a student-programmed robot dance. If it weren’t for the technology that my school (and others) emphasize, I’d likely be out of a job. But the higher commitment has to be towards a more holistic approach to blending disciplines together to provide better better educational opportunities for our students instead of to emphasizing certain parts of a curriculum.
Isn’t that what learning is all about?