Monday, March 30, 2015

Stimming on stemming STEM

It’s hard to know where to begin reacting to Fareed Zakaria’ recent Washington Post article, Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous. So I’ll begin at the beginning.

If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills.
Nope. To the extent that there’s a trend, it’s away from teaching specific, technical skills. Cf. interdisciplinary “21st century skills,” the whole, well-rounded child, and most of the Common Core Standards.
Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities.
We also hear about the push by arts-oriented educators and foundations to change STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
From President Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.”
The relatively few public officials that have much such remarks have gotten a lot of flak.
… The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate.
How do we know we have teaching to thank? Why single out schools in particular, when so many factors affect economic dynamism? Maybe it’s the entrepreneurial spirit of past and recent immigrants, plus the country’s political and economic freedoms and fluidity (which keep attracting these immigrants), plus our ongoing role as a global currency reserve (which keeps us wealthy, full of investment capital, and… attractive to immigrants).
In truth, though, the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success. Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math. And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country has dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.
This is large part in thanks to the large numbers of top scientists who live here now but were foreign born and educated—immigrating here, not for our K12 schools, but for our colleges, universities, and job markets.

I’m only halfway through the article, but for now I’ll stop here.

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