Why go from STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math)?
The answer is simple: Because it’s a really good idea!
At the moment many politicians are pushing for more STEM education at the expense of the liberal arts because they appear to be a better source of future jobs. Florida’s governor Rick Scott, for example, has this to say about spending money on anthropologists: If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs. So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs .... Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so. Former Massachusetts Governor. and Republican nominee for the presidency, MItt Romney, has this to say about his own background in the liberal arts: ...and as an English major I can say this.... as an English major your options are uh, you better go to graduate school, all right? And find a job from there.” Even President Obama, a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in political science – – hardly a hard science – – has occasionally been dismissive of the liberal arts. In a 2014 trip to Wisconsin to discuss job prospects he said this about art history: I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.
It’s easy to understand why politicians emphasize jobs. Character and a certain ability to think outside the box are the benefits of a liberal arts education; two items that are impossible to quantify and even more difficult to campaign on. But Jobs are easy to count and their constituents depend on them for their very lives. At this time there are more jobs in the technology business that can be filled by qualified graduates from American schools. More, the future seems to hold even more jobs in the technology field and there doesn’t appear much is being done at the moment to insure that our graduates will be able to fill those jobs; thus leading to a reduction in our national accumulation of wealth and well-being.
Of course there is another view.
It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing. Steve Jobs, October 7, 2011 when introducing the Ipad 2.
Facebook is as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.Mark Zuckerberg
Many painters learn by having fun, many works [of art and literature] are the products of having fun. So, our entrepreneurs need to learn how to have fun, too. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba in a speech in which he said Chinese students are not as Innovative as Westerners
Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking. Jeff Bezos in an interview in which he told how his top people must be capable of writing coherent, six page memos.
The four individuals responsible for the quotations above are famously successful entrepreneurs responsible for a good percentage of the technology jobs that exist now and will probably exist in the future. For that reason alone it might not be a good idea to write off a liberal arts education as useless. Perhaps a better idea is to put the Arts’ A in STEM, and really create a powerful educational head of STEAM.