When the STEM Community Gets it Wrong

I call it the pendulum effect. American society has the interesting habit of fixating on something considered ‘the solution’ to any given problem–in this case education–and when we do this, we easily lose sight of the bigger picture. In essence, we go from one full swing of the pendulum in one direction to a full swing in the opposite direction where the pendulum stays locked often forgetting the pendulum is meant to swing both directions–consistently–at all times–in order to maintain proper momentum.

Recently, we had two of our juniors win a prestigious web design award that is partially sponsored by Google. The competition centered around a group’s ability to design, advertise, create a business plan, demonstrate functionality and market. My colleague, Nic Carroll, sponsored their group’s efforts and went with them to receive the award. (They won in all categories overall!) While at the Atlanta Google office and listening to Google leaders speak, Mr. Carroll was struck by how hard they pushed STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as the solution to all educational woes and downplaying the efforts of studies in humanities and the like. This got both of us thinking. You see we’re both firm proponents of STEM, but like most ideas in education or business its merely a buzz word that doesn’t give credence to what matters most–critical thinking.

What we’ve learned in our time as PBL teachers using a humanities base is that it really isn’t about how much STEM is implemented into a program of study; rather, the onus should be on innovation, critical thinking and problem solving. All three of those concepts can be accomplished in any area of study if presented through inquiry. STEM is not the only solution and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves swinging the pendulum in the other direction to sit and stay once everyone realizes that our kids can’t write or draw off of history’s critical lessons or create with any new ingenuity due to a lack of art. It doesn’t have to or need to be this way. We can have both STEM and humanities working in conjunction, asking the right questions, and developing critical thinkers. I worry, however, that those in the technology businesses and large technology conglomerates will stifle the idea that the humanities are as important a resource as STEM studies.

What do you think? Isn’t a balance necessary. We’ve have a humanities-based PBL classroom for three years now, and we’ve seen tremendous growth in thinking and innovation through our program. We must be careful not to fool ourselves into thinking there is ever one, black and white solution.

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