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Thoughts on STEM
April 28, 2013 - Bill Ackerbauer
Did you see Levi Pascher's article ("Rethinking High-Tech") on the cover of Sunday's paper?
I've been having some interesting conversations lately with various friends and colleagues about the emphasis on science/tech/engineering/math education — what folks are calling STEM for short. Some of these conversations have been heated! I wonder if this is simply the latest culture clash between the Words Tribe and the Numbers Tribe.
My initial reaction to the two studies cited in Levi's article was to say it's a bad idea to put too much emphasis on any one academic discipline to the detriment of others. I may have used the phrase "STEM craze," which probably wasn't reasonable. Mea culpa.
To clarify my concerns: When I worry about the emphasis on STEM, I don't mean to suggest science, tech and math aren't valuable disciplines. What concerns me is that the national education mission statement seems to be to prepare young people for future high-tech jobs, and it seems to me the subtext is that the purpose of education is to serve the economy rather than the human learner.
When the president, the governor, college administrators and the loudest media voices all tell us the STEM disciplines are the most valuable ones, the stock of every other discipline is diminished. This has an effect on how students view their own worth and potential.
Too many of my students who hope to become medical technicians or nanotech workers don't seem to value language, culture, history or basic intellectual curiosity because they don't see how those things will make them better servants of the high-tech economy.
Judging by the writing, speaking and thinking of many American adults, I'd say too many of them have decided to ignore much of what we teach in the humanities. Perhaps I'm just a bleeding-heart liberal-artist.
What do you think? How important is it for our education system to be geared toward the demands of the economy?
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