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Full STEAM ahead

Brian (trying to dismiss shop class): "Did you know without trigonometry, there’d be no engineering?" Bender: "Without lamps, there’d be no light." ~ The Breakfast Club

I’ve been thinking a lot about STEAM, with much of my food for thought today on the sadness of the “A” (Arts) being missing from so much of today’s education, where teaching across disciplines is ignored in order to mistakenly silo kids into technical education, forgetting that without an embrace of literature, music, art, and the like, we cannot be successful as a community.  As a citizen of the local and global community, I think about how this affects our world.

I’ve always had a problem with the current obsession out there about STEM education, leaving out the importance of arts, as if success is completely left-brained. PBS reported how “A study by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who actively participated in the arts tended to score better in science and writing, and were more likely to aspire to college.”

As a recruiter, I’ve found the most talented employees out there have a healthy amount of creativity in how they work, how they communicate, and how they relate to others. And while I have done much of my work in Portland's startup technology sector, it doesn’t mean that I think that everyone needs to major in computer science. I don’t think everyone needs to learn to code (even though so many in my industry beg to differ).

Time and again, I think of the Three R’s that they focused on in school, and wonder where that’s gone. Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic go hand in hand – taking in the information around you, communicating to others, and solving problems, in other words. How can you do one without the others successfully? Yet in the economy we live in, there seems to be a narrow perspective that just because we could use more scientists and engineers in this country that it means we should leave behind a focus on creative thinking and communications.  The more we integrate technology in our lives, the more we NEED the arts. The more we NEED to think with a multi-disciplinary perspective, rather than silo ourselves.

As a kid, I loved competing in grade school with Olympics of the Mind. I remember winning the Renata Fusca Award for my creative interpretations/uses for an average item one would find in the home. I remember collaboration, learning, and fun because everyone I was with was unique in their thinking. Then I remember participating a couple of years later in middle school with MathCounts where I was the only girl, I was ignored for my out-of-the-box ideas, and generally felt like shit because it was so narrow and other skills were not valued. I dropped out shortly thereafter, and don’t think I ever fully regained an interest in math. And I was taking Calculus at age 15 – the last time I ever took a math class (yup, I found a way to get my degree without ever taking another traditional math class). Sure, some of it was from being outcast as a nerd early on, and wanting to escape that stigma (it was torturous), but those who know me know that I’ve never really fit into a particular category. I dance to the beat of my own drum, and I have seen so many out there who start out like that as well but in our education are pressured into silos.

I was one of them. I was “the smart one” while my older siblings were “the artists”.  Yet it is ironic that I went on to work for myself for a number of years as a photographer while the other two went into military and government work. It doesn’t mean they were not artists or I was not “smart” (notice how “smart” is not equated with creativity in our culture? somehow smart is saved for those who excel in math/science). We were and are all artists. We were and are all smart. How come the arts are being taken away? With the world’s loss of the ultimate artist and one of my greatest influences, Maya Angelou, how can the “A” be left out of our priorities?

“What does it mean to turn STEM to STEAM? The problem-solving, the fearlessness, and the critical thinking and making skills that I see every day…are the same skills that will keep our country innovating, and their development needs to start in the K-12 schools. Design creates the innovative products and solutions that will propel our economy forward, and artists ask the deep questions about humanity that reveal which way forward actually is.” ~ John Maeda, Rhode Island School of Design

Bring on the writers, the painters, the designers, the philosophers. Creativity cannot afford to be lost.

Side note: As a tech recruiter, I hired software engineers with nearly every type of degree, including a ton of non-traditional areas like Philosophy, English, Linguistics, Art History and more...and many who never finished college, went to code school instead, or were self-taught and decided to spend time in the open source world, working on hackathons, fixing bugs, and attending meetups to diversify their knowledge.

Want some extra food for thought and another twist on what I’m discussing…? Check out this article on STEM, STEAM, and SEA. And check out this pretty rad infographic from University of Floriday:

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