STEM vs. the Arts?
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STEM vs. the Arts?
STEM vs. Arts

Is it STEM or STEAM? Why not STREAM? This battle of acronyms makes me want to SCREAM!

I am not sure how long the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) has been around, but the new buzzword is STEAM (sprinkle in the Arts), and it seems to be gaining steam in popularity. Why not call it STREAM, add a dash of reading in the mix, and replace the popular “pipeline” metaphor with an “estuary” metaphor! Do our acronyms and metaphors matter?

There seems to be a battle of value between the liberal arts and the sciences, and this is evident in the conversation to be STEAM not STEM.  This begs the question: Was STEM created to idolize these fields, and diminish the arts? I cannot know for certain, but I highly doubt that was the intention.

What does STEM mean & why?

STEM to me represents the value of integrated learning among these typically silo-ed fields. What is science with out math? What is engineering without science? What is technology without engineering? If we want to improve how our students learn, and increase their motivation and interest to continue learning, we have to adapt our teaching to how the world works. In the “real” world, STEM disciplines are interdisciplinary, and each informs the other! A real world approach to teaching provides the applications that our students need to make connections and reach higher order thinking. In this context, the A might fit! Let’s include the arts in how we teach students to become more creative and innovative engineers or computer scientists.

On the other hand, STEM is a grouping of similar disciplines, and a way of identifying a strategy and approach to education and link to careers. Does STEM require arts and reading? Why of course! Do the arts require STEM? Not in the same way STEM requires liberal arts. I see the argument that we must not forget the arts in our education, because that increases creativity, innovation, literacy, and much more. But does the “A” deserve a place in STE-M as a grouping of disciplines?  There really isn’t a demand for careers in the arts, but there is tremendous demand for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. There is a demand for a society that is technologically literate. Does this mean, we don’t need to place value on arts? Absolutely not! We all need to read, write, think, and be creative.

I think the push for STEM is to help students understand the value and opportunity a strong foundation and education in science, technology, engineering, and math will provide for their future. Our future as a country and as a global society depends on these fields for advancement! According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 out of 10 of the fastest growing occupations requiring at least a bachelors degree are in STEM! A degree in literature, English, or history is not the most marketable degree now or looking forward. The push for STEM, to me, is to help students identify and connect with a bright future full of opportunity. Read why I think an education in engineering is the ultimate launching pad to an exciting future.

There are a million interpretations and associations of what STEM means, but I hope that it doesn’t mean we don’t care about the arts. I am just not sure the acronyms matter.

Further Reading

Read an op-ed: “Don’t pit science and math education against the liberal arts” for a good perspective on this argument.

Here is one man’s mission to make it STEAM – NOT STEM.


Readers CHIME IN

What do you think about the battle of acronyms, and the pitting of arts against STEM?


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7 Responses

  1. I’m at the STEMtech conference in Kasas City right now, where one of the conference tracks is “the integration of STEM and the Liberal Arts”. Your post is echoing in my mind every time I hear people talk abotu STEAM (or TEAMS as I’ve also heard).

    I really like your point that STEM need liberal art skills more than the liberal arts need STEM skills. And the job availability situation it definitely not equal for both disciplines! Whilst I love integrated teaching approaches, there’s definitely something to be said for keeping the STEM acronym as it targets a specific and much needed skill set in the modern world.

  2. Great post! I probably throw around the STEM acronyms quite a bit more than I should with certain audiences. Here is one interpretation that got me thinking:

    “I feel strongly that the Michigan Science Center is part of the solution to turning around the trend that the U.S. is falling behind in science, technology, education and medicine,” said Tom Stephens, chairman board of directors of the museum, earlier this month.

    It is quite possible that he was listing very valid trends, but the order caught my eye… where was engineering and math? Sometimes I wonder if STEM is just one of those buzzwords that are highly used and incorporated into common lingo.

    Full article: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121226/METRO01/212260369#ixzz2GGxWhoja

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