So the ‘A’ can mean adding in Arts and Humanity subjects like English, Geography and History, or it can mean adding in Art and Design. The very fact that it can mean both those things is indicative of the underlying issue that there are a bunch of people simply trying to piggy-back on a perceived focus on STEM education. And that makes me splutteringly mad.
First of all, STEM education is in a mess: That’s why we need to focus on it. People are confusing the idea that everyone is talking about STEM with success. There’s lots of rhetoric, but little real STEM education action. There is no real success to piggy-back upon. The aim of the focus is to make changes to the way we teach because the STEM subjects are not being taught adequately and too few students are choosing to do them.
If you remove that focus you return to the status quo. And really by the time you add History, Geography, English and Art back into the ‘focus’ about the only existing subject not being covered is sport (STEAMS anyone?). There may well be advantages to a broad general education but the current mess we’re in is a result of such generalising and we’re not going to change anything by blunting what little focus there is.
There’s no question that English and History and Geography are important: But we already teach those things and have no shortage of teachers or students. We don’t teach STEM properly and tangling the two up helps not one whit. Adding in art is just ludicrous in the context of limited space in a crowded curriculum. Art is important for its own sake, but does it really need to be focused on in the same breath as STEM at a time when we are churning out a horrifying number of innumerate graduates?
Here’s what the STEAM movement in the USA says:
In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century. We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM.
Yup, science and technology – so last century. Frankly, art and design will only transform technology in the 21st century ‘as science and technology did in the last century’ if we continue to fail to teach science and technology properly and find ourselves in some dystopian future where everyone can design but no one can actually make anything. Please don’t get me started on how you ‘design’ a new antibiotic. Apple has clearly demonstrated how important design can be to a successful product – but a curved back on an iPhone would be meaningless if we didn’t have people designing aerials, software, circuits, and so on.
If we were already going great guns on STEM education this would all seem like a side-issue. But we’re not, we’re barely making progress and so burdening the STEM movement with additional baggage or blunting its focus is madness. This feels like one of those movies where the hero is about to break free of the quicksand when someone else’s hand lurches up and grabs their ankle dragging them backwards. And just as in those movies the irony is that all that they’ll achieve is getting everyone killed.
We should certainly be teaching the ‘A’ subjects, but mucking about with a nascent movement to get some decent focus on STEM education is a terrible idea.