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STEAM rises over STEM

Artists are the gatekeepers of Truth!” – Paul Robeson 

He had a strong mind, he used to philosophize
about rhymes while he was pruning his Bonsai
He claimed that he had written the greatest rhyme of all time
but he would never take it out his archives
He wrote 2 songs per day
and was constantly experimenting with his wordplay
In his youth he did a report on the Sloan Digital Sky survey
he got an F but he deserved an A..” – Cannibus in Poet Laureate II

This past week we learned that Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon are a few of the private enterprises who are providing over $750 million of IT services to schools. Last week, President Obama announced his goal of 99% classroom internet connectivity through his White House’s ConnectED Initiative. This is wonderful news! 

However, the subsequent commentary around tech in classrooms made me cringe just a tad. Our leadership’s incessant focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education is misguided. Daunted by comparative statistics on the number of engineers graduating annually in China and India, US policy leaders have decided to get proactive by dovetailing primary and secondary education to STEM curricula. The logic in this policy action is simple enough to follow. But there’s a very large piece of the ‘ed-reform’ puzzle missing from current policy discourse. 

A love for learning, a ceaseless quest for truth in all its fullness – this my father taught. His own schooling had been along the classic pattern which today has been largely displaced by an emphasis on technology” – Paul Robeson, 1957 in ‘Here I Stand’

..in England I learned that there truly is a kinship among us all, a basis for mutual respect and brotherly love. My first glimpse of this concept came through song, and that is not strange, for the songs that have lived through the years have always been the purest expressions of the heart of humanity.” – Paul Robeson, 1957 in ‘Here I Stand’

Paul RobesonThe life of Paul Robeson provides a great analogy for the current role of arts in education. Mr. Robeson became a world-renowned actor and singer. He toured Europe for over a decade and became a sensation portraying Othello in the famed Shakespeare play. Being the son of a proud black man, Robeson took after his father’s comportment and became vocal about the treatment of blacks in America. He connected, quite naturally, with the social climate in Russia due to their bend toward equal right for blacks. Due to Robeson’s affinity for the Russian political climate, he was labeled a ‘Communist’ by the US Government and his passport was revoked. His international acclaim and opportunity to share his art came to an abrupt halt. The US literally cut off the outlet that this magnificent artist had to produce and distribute his art. 

Ironic it is now, that in 2014, the US Government is advocating policy that curtails the possibility of students learning an arts curriculum. With further promotion of progress toward the ‘new economy’, I’m lost on how our policy leaders don’t see the connection of art ‘AND’ science.

 “[My father] flatly rejected [Booker T.] Washington’s concept that Negro education be limited essentially to manual training; he firmly believed that the heights of knowledge must be scaled by the freedom-seeker.” – Paul Robeson, 1957 in Here I Stand 

STEAM: Arts AND Sciences 

STEAM; The A is for Aesthetics!

There’s an idea encompassed in the word, ‘ergonomics’ which captures the point here. Designing the human experience into products, systems, and processes is the real ‘new economy’. Preparation for this new ‘innovative’ ‘creative’ ‘knowledge’ economy will undoubtedly require greater education systems that will coordinate an understanding of both aesthetics and synthetics. University of Toronto and best-selling author, Richard Florida states ‘In today’s economy, creativity is pervasive and ongoing: it drives the incremental improvements in products and processes that keep them viable just as much as it does their original invention.richard_florida

 STEAM: The A is NOT for Analog!

Our world is now digital. A thorough consideration for the arts is not necessarily an obsolete or sentimental overture. An arts education actually has functionality ‘INTO’ our digital processes. We have to look no further than our generation’s most outstanding digital geniuses; Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

 Steve Jobs studied poetry and literature before he tapped out of college. Zuckerberg, who is highly known as the Harvard Computer Science savant, also majored in Psychology at Harvard. What we can surmise from these tech gurus’ background is that by studying and becoming informed about the human experience, through the deep human expression in literature in Jobs’ case or the mental functionality of the human brain in Zuckerberg’s case, we can create better technologies. The mechanics of the technologies are just one thing, but the efficacy of the actual product requires a deep understanding of human motivation.

 We certainly need improved STEM education in our primary and secondary public schools. I’ll never speak again a progressive curriculum. But we would fail our attempts at progression if we elided the importance of an arts education. The long-term effect of a STEM focused education could threaten our very democratic ideas. Because, “While n^&&@’s playing PlayStations, they building space stations..” – Nas

 –Sage Salvo

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