The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.
E. O. Wilson
The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math caucus still exists in Congress. It’s relatively bi-partisan, founded in 2005 by Vernon Ehlers, a Republican, and Mark Udall, a Democrat.
The desire for self-direction, new ideas, and contribution don’t need to be fanned or encouraged. We can easily build on STEM to create a more global, inclusive universe of learning.
The STEM movement, like home schooling, charter schools, NCLB and such, varies around the country. In some locales it’s almost dogma, in others less so. Let’s consider how we move forward in this brave new world.
Like antibiotics, the automobile, or heavier-than-air flight, the computer and the internet have changed how we operate. They are also changing how we think—maybe radically— especially those growing up after the invention of the pocket computer (we call them cell phones, but they’re computers with a phone app).
I’m no Luddite (named after an anti-technology movement that destroyed machinery in the 18th century). I am blown away by access to all recorded knowledge at my thumb tips. I was a math major, and I love science and technology. I’m fascinated by engineering problems. And by theater, music, art and leadership. So how can we best approach the quantitative, analytical road to knowledge without jeopardizing that which makes us whole?
What for schools?
I’d like to suggest a couple of threads that are woven into this issue.
First, let’s focus on outcomes and see curriculum as a tool but not as the tool for vibrant, lifelong learning. Are we seeking obedient workers, the goal of schools according to much of the traditional theory of public education? Or are we looking for learning that opens minds and hearts to possibilities and individual development? After all, Educare, the root word from which we’ve adopted education, is about bringing forth, not about putting into. If the opening minds model is more worthy, then curriculum can be less restrictive and instead focus on opportunities rather than on linear content.
Second, why do we so underestimate the capacity of our children? We group them artificially by age, give them little or no say about how their learning should progress or be measured, deliver content in a uniform stream as if they’re recipients rather than officers of their own learning. If you have children, you already know that they pick up on technology much faster than adults.
Check a box: most students are a. overchallenged or b. bored. Rather than build a curriculum based on preconceptions from the previous generation, why not give them a menu and let them choose? Even let them help develop the menu. If we can provide them the opportunity to help design curriculum, we multiply their learning as well as ours. More on design later.
Third, each of us has powerful, intrinsic motivators that overshadow external drives like reward and punishment (e.g., grades and awards). This is based on science, not just common sense. Daniel H. Pink’s Drive is rigorously researched and provides wide ranging case studies about intrinsic motivation. In a nutshell, Drive demonstrates that we all have three powerful motivators. Like Maslow’s hierarchy, these are demonstrable and common to all of us. We are all driven by the need to direct our own lives, learn and create new things, and do better by ourselves and our world. So any leader (or curriculum) that can open up the environment to tap into these will always outperform those that don’t.
The desire for self-direction, new ideas, and contribution don’t need to be fanned or encouraged. We can easily build on STEM to create a more global, inclusive universe of learning. The basis for this is the idea of consilience, promoted by the same fellow who I quoted at the top of this piece, E. O. Wilson.
Consilience was a movement in the 19th century (I know that’s a while ago, but it’s either a good idea or not, like dessert, no matter when it first appeared). Literally, “jump together,” consilience opens the door to combining scientific insights and data across disciplines to expand understanding—the physics folks talking with (and listening to) the biology bunch and the chemistry crew. Wilson also encouraged sharing across the social sciences as well. Though separate streams of investigation bear fruit, sharing insights and perceptions across those streams magnifies learning and improves results.
Where I see problems with STEM is when it’s restrictive. Like home schooling, if we can use the practice to expand rather than limit, we all win. So let’s consider STEAM (the A is for art), which builds enrichment and insight as well as knowledge.
A new acronym (omg!)
We know from experience as well as from the research of people like Howard Gardner (Frames of Mind), that there are strong possibilities for connection among the various human intelligences. The classic example is how musical/rhythmic intelligence can transfer to improving math achievement. All data I’ve discovered indicate a powerful correlation between arts education (including the graphic as well as the performing arts) and cognitive as well as social development.
In addition to the A in STEAM, I propose adding E for Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
In my current work with tall children (adults), we focus on three threads: learning, language, and leadership. Though most of my participants are aware of EQ, few of them realize the correlation between developing the skills of emotional competence and improved relationships and performance. And perhaps 10% of these supervisors and executives have had any study and application of EQ. What a startling vacuum!
What good is math without communication skills? What good is technological know-how without understanding different learning styles and dealing with conflict? These skills are not an add-on. They develop as we change classroom methodology—by building in more collaboration, coaching, grouping not by age but by interest, mixing of individual and team learning. By sharing awareness of what it takes to work together through transforming conflict (differences) and building alignment (congruence), we create a sense of a learning community.
Finally, I suggest adding D to complete STEAMED. The D represents Design.
The idea of obedient workers took weed-like root in public education during a time of rapid industrialization. It was mind-numbing then and it’s more so now. Even if you see school as mere training-for-work, we no longer have a need for a mass of algorithmic workers—people who repeat the same process over and over and over again. Like a Greek vision of hell.
We need agile, creative, emotionally and intellectually vibrant people capable of using technology rather than of being used by it. People possessed of a healthy skepticism, a sense of possibility and connection. Able to help design new fields of study, new insights, practices, and institutions to deal with an increasingly diverse and often ambiguous world.
For you auditory learners and travelers, you can listen to a podcast on this topic at https://learningchaos1243.audello.com/podcast/1/