Our Kids Ain’t Just STEMS

There is an incredible emphasis on the STEM curriculum in public schools. I fear that because of the limiting of resources and reduction of per-pupil funding by our state government that other subject areas have and will suffer for it.

Gov. McCrory has been vocal about creating more emphasis on STEM curriculum. Even in his 2015 budget proposal, he wanted to offer graduate degree pay bumps to those who taught STEM classes. McCrory said,

High quality STEM education is critical to North Carolina’s future prosperity. To address the gap in education and workforce needs, we must provide resources and support for teachers’ professional growth – especially in the critical areas of science and mathematics. “ (http://wncn.com/2015/04/14/mccrory-announces-statewide-stem-initiative-with-help-from-gsk-2/). ”

But with all of this emphasis on STEM, the acronym itself suggests that there is more that students need to be exposed to when it comes to creating an innovative citizenry for this new age.

Why? Because a “STEM” is only part of the larger flower or plant. And while the STEM is important, so are the roots, leaves, soil, sun, and water in creating the bloom, fruit, crop, or plant.

If we are to create a vibrant citizenry, we need to make sure that we pay attention to the whole student. And that means that we need to make sure that the very students who many claim need to be immersed in STEM curriculum are also nurtured with the arts – both the liberal and the fine arts.

Think about it. Before a plant can grow it needs to have a good root system that allows it to take in nutrients from the soil and water from the ground. The more elaborate the root system is, the better chance that the plant will grow and thrive.

Much like a root system, we make sure to give our students a foundation early. Remember the three “R’s”? Two of them refer to reading and writing, which are the basis for language arts. Reading is practically the most foundational aspect for almost every other type of learning. Establishing and nurturing that root system must happen. Besides, the bigger the plant, the need for a more elaborate root system. That’s why we always need good language arts instruction. It allows us to grow within the environment.

The leaves are like the social sciences and other humanities. Leaves take in the sunshine and use photosynthesis to literally feed the plant. The leaves interact with what is around the plant. Much like the leaves, the social sciences and humanities lend perspective and teach lessons about what is around us and how we can interact with those entities. These areas lend us a lens to see how the world works and how we can function in that world. They also teach what has worked in the past and what has worked in other climates.

There is so much evidence and research that the fine arts enhance any student’s ability to improve in all academic areas. Theater, music, visual arts, and dance help students expand themselves and develop self-esteem, confidence, creativity, and self-expression. The very appearance and appeal to the senses has a lot to do with just how a plant presents itself.

Gov. McCrory was quoted along with many other high ranking Republicans this past Feb. 21st in the New York Times seemingly belittling the humanities and arts. Patricia Cohen reported in “A Rising Call to Promote STEM Education and Cut Liberal Arts Funding”,

“What has incensed many educators is not so much the emphasis on work force development but the disdain for the humanities, particularly among Republicans. Several Republicans have portrayed a liberal arts education as an expendable, sometimes frivolous luxury that taxpayers should not be expected to pay for. The Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, for example, has called for more welders and fewer philosophers. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida criticized anthropologists, and Mr. McCrory belittled gender studies” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/business/a-rising-call-to-promote-stem-education-and-cut-liberal-arts-funding.html?_r=0).

What McCrory, Rubio, and Scott forget is that they control the very soil and water that is used to help plants (students) grow. By fully funding our public schools, they ensure that the soil is nutrient rich and able to help grow plants. By removing obstacles like vouchers and unregulated charter schools, they can ensure that there is enough rain falling on the plants for them to grow.

When they say we don’t need as many liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, and fine arts, they are literally saying that plants are nothing but stems. And the stem cannot survive on its own. It needs the other parts.