Thursday, November 17, 2016

Shifting Away From Arts and Towards STEM

Last year, as I was filling out my senior year schedule, I thought to myself ‘what classes would Mason High School want me to take?’

Subconsciously, my eyes automatically found those under the math and science category.

At Mason, there is definitely an encouragement to take STEM classes more so than any humanities or art classes. I understand why this encouragement exists-- STEM prepares students for lucrative fields that are consistently growing. At the beginning of last year, when STEM first grew legs, I interviewed Jonathan Cooper, the district’s Innovative Learning Officer, about the integration of STEM in early education. He told me that he “saw a real need in our global economy for STEM education” and “it is (his) job to make sure students have the best advantage when they come out of (Mason).” Makes sense. But is there such a thing as too much STEM? Is the ‘best advantage’ for students being proficient in calculus or being competent writers? Mason could put more emphasis on the importance of English and the arts, and it starts with their definition of ‘Innovation.’

Here is a screenshot from Mason’s Quality Profile, which is code for a ‘more professional sounding newsletter.’ After reading this blurb, I thought it was interesting that they mentioned the importance of strong communication skills in today’s world, but went on to show statistics about STEM subjects.  Students communicate with their peers in any school setting, but would learn stronger communication skills in a writing or public speaking class than in a robotics class. I’m not saying to put the kibosh on robotics, but it wouldn’t hurt to offer a written and spoken communication class along with robotics, and maybe throw a statistic about it up on the Quality Profile. I also thought about the Mason students who love the arts, but are told that STEM is the only way to get ahead in this world. It is true that more jobs are opening in STEM fields and that typically they can be more lucrative. But if you love art, writing, or history, why not study it? I hope that Mason could put on their Quality Profile “100% of high school students plan on majoring in what they love.” That would be innovative. With this lurking pressure to go into STEM fields, I don’t think they could.
An infographic displaying the many benefits of an arts education.

The Arts also catalyze a creative mind, one that is more keen to problem solving and critical thinking. In Ria’s article coming out tomorrow about shifting away from the arts and towards STEM, she references a study done by the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium. In this study, scientists collected test scores from two groups of three to five year-olds. One group took the test right away, and the other participated in music activities for eight weeks prior to testing. The test scores from the group that participated in musical activities were substantially higher. Humanities and art classes exercise the left side of the brain, which translate to success in STEM fields. Students in STEM classes are always presented with complex problems. The left side of the brain is responsible for creativity, a key component in problem solving. If school’s emphasize the importance of the arts, STEM students will excel in all subjects.

I’m not advocating for arts because I suck at math. I have taken advanced math and science classes throughout high school and plan on majoring in data analytics. With all the constant chatter supporting STEM, educators are forgetting about the benefits of the humanities and arts. For those of you who love STEM and want to study it, go for it. Our country needs you, and you will go on to do amazing things. For those of you who don’t love STEM, don’t study it. STEM isn’t the only way to be ‘Innovative’. Hopefully, schools can realize this.

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