STEAM

Sometimes two seemingly unrelated things come together and form a completely unexpected blog post. That happened to me this week. Like most Americans, I have been reading about the #NeverAgain leaders, the survivors of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland FL. What comes up again and again is how passionate and articulate these young people are—to the point of having been accused of being paid “crisis actors.” The second thing that happened was a discussion of some ongoing issues in Houston Independent School District and what that meant for English teachers; a part of this discussion was the current emphasis on STEM education. STEM, for those who don’t know, means “educating students in four specific disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.”

The emphasis on STEM education, which began in earnest with a federal government initiative 2009, is to meet a perceived need: filling the great number of STEM-related jobs that are anticipated in the very near future. Once again, US public education reconfigures itself to prepare workers, not necessarily thinkers. At the same time public educations budgets are stretched and trimmed, in many cases cutting out all enrichment programs and many extracurricular activities that do not directly support the educational fad du jour.

This is not the sort of education that the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School received. It turns out that the school has significant resources and an affluent student body. It also turns out that Broward County Public Schools, of which Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a part has a “system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age.” And it happens that the state of Florida has a very successful civics program that reaches down into middle school. Not only that, but the student leaders who have spoken so forcefully and eloquently beneficiaries of extracurricular programs in drama and journalism. That’s right, the #NeverAgain movement is being led by drama kids.

So those leaders of the #NeverAgain movement were trained by an unusual (for most of the US) collection of curricular and extracurricular programs for what they are now doing. These are the programs that made them articulate and eloquent and able to stand in front of cameras and debate with senators. Drama kids. I won’t bother to list here all the things a student can learn by participating in theatre; if you are reading this, you already know them. Suffice it to say, those skills are numerous and significant.

So while the rest of the US is training workers, Broward County Florida is training leaders. Yes, of course, that’s an exaggeration, but not by so much if you think about it. And yes, we do need technicians and engineers and doctors and physicists, but those technicians and engineers and doctors and physicists need other skills too, skills that can only be had through arts education.

Fortunately, there is a movement to insert arts into STEM education. It’s called STEAM and the A is, of course for “arts/design.” The program is being headed by one of the most prestigious arts schools in the country, Rhode Island School of Design. The good news is that, at least according to the STEM to STEAM website, STEAM is being “widely adopted by institutions, corporations, and individuals.” The bad news is that it’s not being adopted widely enough. So please support STEAM—any way you can.

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Date: Monday, 12. March 2018 0:59
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