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What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

Posted September 18, 2013 9:09 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: arts careers education STEM

Here on CR4 the theme is engineering (obviously), and our topics of discussion and blog entries are (mostly) directly related to the sciences that make modern engineering possible. It's with close scrutiny we hear our fellow forum members, thoughtfully analyze what they have submitted, and promptly find the values or stupidity in their offerings.

Is it possible the members of CR4, and perhaps many others, are undervaluing something? In our pursuit of assisting each other and expressing our engineering concerns, could our emphasis on science and technology come at the expense of the liberal arts?

It seems that lately, the U.S. government is currently pushing states and schools to place an emphasis on what are known as the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There have been recent studies which state the American education system is not particularly adept at conveying STEM concepts to the American youth. In a global educational survey conducted in 2011, American 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds ranked 25th out of the 34 industrialized countries polled, 17th in science, and tied for sixth in reading. Worse yet, the results weren't that surprising, as the U.S. has been falling behind in each edition the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which has been held every four years since 1995. Other studies have indicated a similar discrepancy: in 2012, 69 percent of high school graduates did not meet college-readiness benchmarks for math and science; a 2010 study placed the U.S. last out of eight countries surveyed in math and science achievements.

Naturally, the U.S. government has begun supporting initiatives to increase American aptitude in STEM. In 2012, President Obama began allocating additional federal funding to states who can improve their teachers' skills in STEM fields. Public funding for the National Science Foundation has exceeded $7 billion in recent years, which accounts to a 300 percent budget increase since the 1980s. The Department of Homeland Security has eased visa and citizenship requirements for foreigners who have STEM degrees.

This year, 26 state education offices collaborated to create The Next Generation Science Standards which will outline a new method for teaching STEM fields to students from kindergarten through high school. This comes on the heels of two reports from the National Research Council that state that current teaching methods are outdated, and that students learn better from trial-and-error than from a teacher dictating notes. In the new standards, nearly all lessons are taught through experiments and student-led discussion, with book work and memorization at a minimum. Only a few states have implemented these standards so far, but they're under consideration in all 26 states that participated.

The steps to improve the U.S.'s standings in STEM are admirable, but little attention has been paid to the liberal arts. One would guess that officials aren't impressed with a sixth-place finish for reading, but there has been no refocusing on the arts.

Furthermore, a commission assembled by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences sought the answer to what's more important to an intelligent, profitable society: arts education or STEM education. The academy is one of the most prestigious, independent policy think tanks, and one of the American Academy's founders is also a Founding Father: John Adams.He wished for his sons to achieve a technical education, but one balanced with lessons in "Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce...Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine," (sic). The commission eventually concluded that the key to a vibrant economy is workers who have a diversity of skills, not skills in just a few keys areas. Surveys of major American employers indicate they prefer employees who can write well, think critically, research creatively and communicate easily.

So what do you think? Is there still a need for a liberal arts education in today's world, which is driven by high technology and scientific innovation?

Resources


New York Times - US Students still lag...

TIME - Critics of the Liberal Arts are wrong

Wikipedia - STEM fields; Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

Newsday - A liberal arts education is still relevant

Popular Science (print) September 2013; "Lab is in Session"

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#1

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 9:37 AM

There has to be a equal balance...... and by equal I do not mean a 1 to 1 ration..... but a balance as to compliment each........

Now if I knew what that actual number is, maybe I can retire.

But how and what things are taught in schools change...... Today its STEM, tomorrow I'm sure it will be something else.

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#2

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 12:47 PM

The arts have their place, STEM courses have their place. The best of both is what we need: SMARTS.

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#14
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 1:24 PM

SMARTS! I like that.

What I fear, from listening to my wife and her peers, all educators, is there is a huge lack of critical thinking today. One would think that would come with STEM focused education, what with the problem solving required, but it seems not. IMHO you need both Stem and Liberal Arts, plus practice in applying critical thinking skills using the knowledge gained from both but there are too many seemingly successful people who obviously don't think critically proving me wrong!

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#3

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 4:52 PM

Presenting a STEM subject well is an art in itself, it leads the students to discover for themselves, or gives them the impression that they are. Purely STEM people tend to bore the students.

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#4
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 6:20 PM

yes, presentation...... ga

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#5

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 6:56 PM

It's impossible to say what life will be like in another 20 or 30 years....nobody knows....Things change quickly, but there is one thing that remains constant, technological superiority is essential to maintaining a free society....and freedom to express yourself, only exists in a free society....Freedom is the boiler plate of creativity....as long as we have freedom, we will have artists...

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#6
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 8:21 PM

So true. When I was getting my BS in Physics, LCDs were just barely at the digital watch stage, and LEDs were simple low-energy red or orange lamps. Lasers were mostly still lab devices.

Ten years later I was designing commercial equipment with off-the-shelf lasers. Twenty years later I was designing color AMLCDs with super-efficient, high brightness White LEDs.

--Stuff never dreamed of when I was in school. But my solid background in Physics allowed me to learn, adapt and grow with the technology.

I suppose art - at least graphic art - is similar. Years ago graphic art used paints, pens, pencils, paper... Now graphic arts is largely done on a computer. I don't play video games, but I have to admit I'm amazed at the artwork they generate - as just one example.

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#21
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/24/2013 3:17 PM

Just a question! Are you sure freedom comes about because of "technological superiority"? You're right SolarEagle when you say "Freedom is the boiler plate of creativity.... It's just that the creativity comes after the freedom, not before.

A free society exists because there are people willing to stand up to tyranny or the rule of a monarch type government. Freedom is the result of people governing themselves through the principles laid out in our United States Constitution and because of the factors seen in our Declaration of Independence.

When people are free to live like that there will be an abundance of finances; an abundance of forward-thinking people; a free enterprise economic system where competition promotes new ideas, new processes, new systems to meet the needs of consumers, etc. When people are welcome to benefit from the fruits of their labors rather than being taxed and regulated to death, there will always be people pushing the boundries of technology and therefore our superiority is maintained.

North Korea and South Korea are prime examples of these principles. NK has more land, more people, more natural resources, etc. and yet they are one of the poorest countries on earth with thousands of people dying of hunger/malnutrition. SK on the other hand has less of all those components listed above and yet have something like the 5th largest economy in the world. Why? It is because one group of people enjoys freedom and the other group of people are under authoritarian rule and the people have little freedom.

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/25/2013 1:37 PM

Creativity exists even without freedom, but freedom certainly is a great environment for encouraging creativity.

.

It should be noted, South Korea isn't a good example if you are trying to tie prosperity to freedom.

.

South Korea developed very rapidly in the 1960s 1970s and 1980s. It was one of the fastest growing economies in the world during those decades.

.

South Korea during those decades same could not fairly be described as reasonably free. It would better be described at best as repressive and easily as despotic rule. South Korea transformed significantly and held national elections in the late 1980s.

.

Growth in the decades since transformation has still be rapid, but not as fast as the decades preceding transformation.

.

South Korea also isn't exactly a shining beacon of individual freedom even today. Hundreds of people are imprisoned annually for expressing sympathy for communist or for North Korea. Songs in Japanese are generally prohibited from being aired on the radio. Investigations showed newspapers critical of the government received closer tax scrutiny. Teachers have been prosecuted for raising discussions of past political uprisings.

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#23
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/25/2013 2:25 PM

There aren't any crystal clear, squeeky clean nations on the earth. They all have their faults and the truth about SK is that they, for the most part, are free.

Maybe a different analogy would be at the beginning of the settling of this country when the John Bradford, others and the Pilgrims came here to settle. The first year they functioned as a commune type arrangement and subsequently about died because of not having enough food to go around.

The second year the dynamics were changed and each person had a certain amount of land they could farm as they saw fit. The result was that they had an abundance of crops. When people are free and are incentivized through free enterprise and capatalism, great things happen.

Creativity will not only exist, but thrive in environments of freedom.

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#24
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/25/2013 2:34 PM

I agree with your point. '...Creativity will not only exist, but thrive in environments of freedom....'

.

I just don't think South Korea was a good example since the extremely rapid growth was mostly during the period of despotic repressive rule.

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#7

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/18/2013 11:11 PM

Who would be so foolish to think the education necessary to prepare and for a career as an engineers could be complete without completing courses in Painting, Poetry, Musick, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine!

.

That would be like suggesting a comparative literature major might be fit to graduate without taking differential equations, linear algebra, thermofluid mechanics, control theory, structural analysis, and system dynamics.

.

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#8

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 6:43 AM

Where is India? India has many mathematics scholars. Average Indian student is very strong in mathematics.

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#9

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 10:03 AM

I went back to college when I was in my thirties. I needed more money to support my music habit. I think both STEM and the arts are important, but without common sense and ethics neither will work.

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#10

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 11:06 AM

There will always be arts majors, likely too many to fully employ. Let schools be free to offer the education, and let students be free to chart their own course.

I don't see the same trend for STEM fields. We'll always be short, at least a little. The more we push that side of education, the better.

Push STEM, but maintain a healthy requirement for liberal arts electives. Mine was sparse enough that I never read Shakespeare, but I studied other squishy topics.

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#11
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 11:26 AM

and let students be free to chart their own course.

I disagree with this.....

It seems that the students charting their own course end up getting degrees that are unsustainable. After racking up $100,000.00 loans for a 28,000.00/yr as a social that is already satiated, they start crying that they are a victim.

When I was in High School we had a Guidance Counsel (GC) that helped greatly in choosing one's career that the student would enjoy.

I started College when I was 25, and had to return to get my high school to arrange for transcripts, (I always felt more comfortable on Face to Face) even then the G.C. had a brief discussion with me and the career choice I was making. It was a small High School, (our Graduating Class was 62 students)

Your comment of:

I don't see the same trend for STEM fields. We'll always be short, at least a little. The more we push that side of education, the better.

As far as being short, that can be a good thing by generating demand.

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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 11:57 AM

$X00K student loans are a relatively new phenomenon. They should be fixed, but have little/nothing to do with the selection of major. Nor did I intend to just let teenagers twist in the wind without guidance. Keep the counseling up, of course. In fact, make sure we have enough. We gotta keep those liberal arts majors employed somehow.

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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 12:05 PM

We gotta keep those liberal arts majors employed somehow.

Yes, there is a market for some liberal arts areas, but its a saturated one.

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#15

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 2:48 PM

You will not find a population of folks skilled in STEM which does not also have a large subset also in possession of the ARTS skills and knowledge. The converse is not true.

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#16

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 9:06 PM

Imagine how far behind would our society be without,

illustrators to convey concepts difficult to fathom,

writers to convey difficult topics into laymen terms (investors, voting public,etc.),

Humanities/History to steer ethical policy.

In wartime, art is essential for camouflage and deception.

Arts help provide variety and choice to help widen economic employment with competing products.

On the flip side, some technologies become obsolete/extinct because the product (such as Damascus steel) was predominately produced by a few which hoarded the knowledge to produce a particular product. Once gone, these skills and knowledge bases can be hard to regain if tightly controlled by a few.

My answer would be to say that it depends on the circumstances and what vulnerabilities exist to the majority of people. Sometimes a blend or hybrid of the two may be needed based on the distribution of each sub field.

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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/19/2013 9:16 PM

It's a form of synergy...... Hate that word..... Whe each compliments the other..... An engineer to develop the technology to develop the paints and the supplies for the artist. Develop the techno by for the investor to invest in. Both compliments both

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#18

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/23/2013 6:22 PM

We need diversity. Yin and Yang. All work and no play (or entertainment) makes me a dull boy. To achieve the best, we need everybody doing what they are best at (at least within the boundaries of practicality, ethics and law).

One of our biggest problems is failing to utilize talents and marry diverse talents into a product or system. For example, an automobile is a complex engineering feat that can sell or fail based upon its styling. Too often people specialize in small niches that are too narrow to sustain themselves. For example, the literary snob who feels that advertising media is beneath him. With effort we can triumph merging liberal arts with STEM in the first example, but not so much in the second example. You make your choices and deal with their consequences.

STEM education happens to be a popular catch phrase today, and I'm afraid that politicians and the media are more in love with the catch phrase than they are in actually making it work. There are many unemployed and under-employed people today with STEM backgrounds, enough to suppress wages and create a poor job market. If we manage to create an abundance of STEM graduates, where are they going to work? Just saying that "we realize that STEM is important, so we need to push STEM classwork" is not enough when STEM graduates are facing job prospects that approach the poor prospects that many liberal arts graduates have been facing.

I've also experienced the lack of effort that the State where I live puts behind its words. My State claimed that it was trying to attract experienced STEM graduates to teach high school students - even created a program to transition Bachelor's Degree holders into earning teaching certificates. But when I (and several friends) applied we found that they didn't really want to go through with it. First they tried to talk us out of doing it, then they put a Catch-22 in place (couldn't enter the transition program without a sponsoring high school, but a high school isn't allowed to hire a non-certified candidate). The result? Very few people have attempted the transition, exasperated by the State cutting teacher salaries and positions since then. But they cry that they cannot get the STEM teachers they need.

Go figure. I'm tired of this mess.

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#19

Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/23/2013 7:44 PM

If we put the arts back in there, we can work up a little STEAM.

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#20
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Re: What's More Important, STEM or Arts?

09/24/2013 9:47 AM

Hmmm... what else might be in the anacronygram tea leaves?

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STEM or Arts? ---->>> MAstErS roT?

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What's More Important, STEM or Arts? ----->>> I'm A TorMEntor to trespasS WarMth

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'....put the Arts back....work up STEAM....' ---->>> '...Up-Phase Buttock Wart Markets....'

(I had to paraphrase a little to get it, and I have no idea what it means.... but it is the best of the three.)

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