I know it has been a very long time since I blogged. I think I ran out of new things to say. Because of recent work, some perspective work, and frankly missing my connection to the arts, education, STEM et al, I decided it is time to put some questions out there.
I have always believed in the arts. I believe in arts education, arts for art’s sake and the innate benefits one derives from creative expression and critical evaluation. At the same time, right or not, I have never felt like my work was as important in the arts as some one who was a scientist or an engineer. They produced valuable commodities for the world and contribute to making the world tangibly, materially better. They solve problems and make valuable discoveries. Thus in part, my reason for advocating for children of all ages to have a comprehensive education in which the STEM or STEAM subjects are core.
For about six months, I have done little with STEAM education and nothing in the arts except be a frequent museum visitor. I reconnected a few weeks ago with an education/STEM colleague whose relationship and work I value, and my brain began to synthesize. How can I reconcile my needs and my passion? Along with that, I had to revisit, rework and lead a Professional Development I do about STEAM and answer the many questions about what it is. As well, my youngest child (college junior) decided he no longer could be a computer science/applied math engineering major. He wanted a liberal arts education.
All of these events coincided to synchronize my thoughts about what education should do, be. I am asked so many questions about why do we have STEM education? What is STEAM? All wanting clear-cut definitions and answers.
The purpose of education: (Practically Speaking)
- Preparing children to be citizens (learn how the world works).
- Preparing children to participate and be prepared to enter the workforce (contribute to society, be fiscally responsible).
It is also to understand complex thought, perhaps become leaders in business, science or the arts to make the world better and help those less fortunate gain opportunity. How do we do this?
That question has been a trigger for multiple theories about how we best learn. The bottom line is we need to have experiences, learn how to discover and nurture curiosity and above all, ASK QUESTIONS! Doesn’t the most important learning come from teachers who ask students questions for them to seek information? And then, the students think, process, to ask more questions?
- What did you observe?
- What did you see – Can you describe it?
- Compare and contrast your observations with your predictions.
- What do you think could happen next? Make predictions.
- What else would you like to learn more about?
- What did you learn? Can you apply that to new work?
- What did you learn by working with others?
- What happens if I….
So, given these fundamentals, why have the arts never been as valuable as mathematics? Why do we teach art to young children (mostly as a craft, even imitation, rather than a way to discover, explore or critically think) and use it only as an elective once they are out of elementary school? Does society only value that which can show tangible gain immediately?
For whatever it’s worth, I have seen the results of students of all ages allowing themselves to think and respond to open-ended questions – those with no right answer or more than one solution. I understand we need to worry about the world, progress and making people safe, better conditions, etc. Why do we not value what the arts offer to do this? Do we think the arts are only arts and crafts? Fun busywork? Do we value the societal input and statements the arts can make? Is thought and the creative process understood? Communication? And of course, there is aesthetic value reeling to ask:
- What does that make me feel?
- What do I see?
- Why is this important?
We see the consequences of putting rote knowledge first. Our children are not coming out with a better education. They are not thinking on their own-often being told what to think by others, media, without critical review. They are not stepping up to fill the needs for careers at the pace needed. That doesn’t mean none of them are – actually there seems to be a huge disparity between those that do not have adequate opportunity and struggle to get through, or are passed through, and those who are taking numerous AP classes and competing to get in the best colleges. I fear that many of these “over achievers” can’t think to save themselves. They are masters of information. No one has encouraged or allowed them to question or use that information to take the next steps for inquiry.
Where am I going with all of this? I think we need to make education inclusive for all. I think we need to be sure we are fostering resilient, resourceful people who can and will fight to make this world better. I think we need to create people who will stand up for what is right in the face of opposition and not just value or rubber stamp ideas because it benefits them monetarily. We need to teach students to think.
Paradigm shift? Yes. It is unfair to value one discipline over another. We are complete people in a complex world, and students should have the opportunities to experience learning and the world from multiple perspectives. I resent that I think Science and Math are more valuable, and at the same time, I believe it. It is not, and must not be either or. It is BOTH.
An essay worth reading is HERE (The Neo-Liberal Arts)