Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reason 13 of 45 in Our 45 Day Countdown to the NEA RA's Adoption of the NEA FINE ARTS CAUCUS STE(A)M New Business Item

What is STE(A)M?

Can the U.S.'s Science Education Initiative Succeed Without the Arts? A Growing Chorus Says No
by Kyle Chayka * although originally published in May 2012
the article is still very relevant emphasizing our need to move

 Thomas Eakins, "The Agnew Clinic," 1889 Courtesy of Wiikpaintings
Though the buzz within the contemporary art world lately has been about rising auction prices and sales records, art has entered the national conversation in another, quieter form that might have escaped the eyes of gallerists and curators. The acronym STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and it has recently become a byword for education reform and the drive to improve America’s competitiveness in those global arenas. Now, some critics of the effort are arguing that STEM leaves out one of the most important areas of human achievement — the arts. STEM, they say, should be turned into STEAM.

In a post for Scientific American, science editor and blogger Steven Ross Pomeroy explores STEM, calling it an “unobjectionably worthwhile endeavor,” but also finding fault with its lack of consideration of the arts. Pomeroy cites Leonardo da Vinci, Carl Jung, and the 11th-century Chinese polymath Su Song as
evidence that in the past, art and science have evolved in tandem, rather than in the opposing roles that we place them in today. In the effort to push education in science and math, he argues, “young Americans are being educated out of creativity.”

Science, as much as art, is a creative process, but science education encourages far different skill sets and thinking than does training in the arts, visual or otherwise. Schools forcing teachers to align their material with standardized tests has created a restrictive environment that places the emphasis not on innovation but on rote learning, while funding for the arts has been cut increasingly thin — the continuously embattled National Endowment for the Arts, which is a significant source of funding for arts education, is being targeted by Republicans, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and current Tea-Party legislators have stated that he/they would cut the NEA’s government subsidy entirely (needless to say, this is not a threat leveled at technology funding).

The STEM criteria arose around 2006 with George W. Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, an outgrowth of the country’s paranoia at falling behind rising giants China and India in technological production and invention. That year, the United States National Academies released an outline meant to improve K-12 science and math education, strengthen teacher skills in those areas, and “enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees.”

In the past few years, STEM has been catching on as a buzzword and a funding area for nonprofit organizations making grants to schools for technology-oriented projects. New York City is in the midst of opening new university campuses, contributing $100 million alone to develop the Cornell NYC Tech school, and entire high schools devoted to technology, encouraging young students to enter the city’s burgeoning start-up job market. As for the arts, the city has committed $156 million in spending to support local cultural institutions in the current fiscal year, but a STEM-scale effort seems out of the question.

In the competition for funding, practical science is always going to come out ahead of art. The true dilemma is not how to make those numbers equal, but how to integrate the arts into STEM. Under technologically inclined president John Maeda, the Rhode Island School of Design has launched STEM to STEAM with the goal of fostering “the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer.” Hackathons have arisen as an event format that brings the freewheeling, creative spirit of art to technological experimentation. Pomeroy cites oddball physicist Richard Feynman’s statement that “scientific creativity is imagination in a straitjacket.” Should STEM go forward without the A, it might never escape.

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