If you have been engaged in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), you have probably also been aware of the emerging insistence that STEM becomes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the ARTS, and Mathematics). For those of us who have been inveterate supporters of the arts (and the humanities), this inclusion is both highly welcome, and, we believe, incredibly necessary.
Recently, while reading in the educational section of TheConversation.com (Academic Rigor, Journalistic Flair), I came across this article, STEAM, Not STEM: Why Scientists Need Arts Training, which gave me more food for thought on this issue. In this article, Richard Lachman, associate professor at Ryerson University, details the schism that often exists between the sciences and the arts in the academic world. He further points out that modern-day populism (with its often attendant anti-intellectualism) may also be contributing to this schism, and that this could cause difficult problems in the future, and may have caused unintended problems in the past and present. He stresses the need for a marriage between the arts and the sciences, especially at the university level with these words, “I am a computer scientist who studies digital culture. I try my best to bridge the divides, but constantly ask the question: How can universities train our scientists, technologists and engineers to engage with society, rather than perform simply as cogs in the engine of economic development? I believe we need our educational system to engage students with issues of ethics and responsibility in science and technology. We should treat required arts and humanities courses not as some vague attempt to “broaden minds” but rather as a necessary discussion of morals, values, ethics and responsibility.”
In today’s world, scientists, technology specialists, engineers, and mathematicians are dedicated to inventing, creating, and solving problems that have the potential to help humankind, or, conversely, to cause irreparable harm. I vividly remember a conversation with a highly gifted fifth grader who realized this and asked the simple, yet profound question, “So...just because we CAN do some things, does that mean we SHOULD do these things?” Think of the myriad of possibilities that her question could affect.
The arts and the humanities demand that we ask ourselves this very question at every juncture of the creation process. The question is grounded in ethics - in morality and responsibility. The arts and humanities can often best help us question, illuminate, and debate. So how do we do this?
In the words of Lachman, “We need to make sure STEM graduates working in these fields are able to engage with the toughest questions of our time: What, where and how should our new inventions be engaged?
I would like to see university curricula in STEM subjects expanded — to discuss whether we should develop certain technologies at all, with ethical concerns a common thread throughout our studies. The risks to society of anything else seem paramount.”
I would submit that we need to stress the marriage of STEM and STEAM at a much earlier age -- to children, as they wrestle with the problems of the world that need solving. Imagine a child hearing Britten’s War Requiem or Kurt Bestor’s The Prayer of the Children, or viewing a collection of photos from the Jewish graves in Prague following the Holocaust, or the photos depicting Hiroshima, or wrestling with Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken as he experience science and social studies curricula. Imagine all children, (and eventually all adults) asking the question, “Just because we CAN do some things, does that mean we SHOULD do these things?”
All of us, and especially those of us who ponder deep questions, and sometimes feel that we are alone, deserve the probing guidance and solace of the arts and humanities as we make sense of our world.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.