STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The STEM fields are of special significance in the United States, as they are considered by the government to be strategically important, and because we have a shortage of experts in these fields. As a result, many government and educational agencies have STEM programs, and we’ll discuss some of those in a moment.
My purpose today is to nip a growing trend in the bud, which is the tendency for people involved in the arts to expand it to STEAM (A = Arts). Nearly everyone in my family (except me) is musical, and so I sit through a lot of fundraising presentations at concert halls, always hearing the pitch of why STEAM fields are so important. It’s in the high school newsletters, it’s in the local performing arts community brochures; it’s everywhere you look when you go to an art show.
I love the arts. Music, literature, art, philosophy — it encompasses a wealth of fields, and students do truly remarkable work within them. Arts are important, but they are outside of STEM for some very good reasons. When educators and art patrons talk about STEAM, they are missing the point. The importance of art does not lie in any association with STEM, and arts are important for their own reasons unrelated to the the importance of STEM.
- The America COMPETES Act recognizes the likelihood of the United States’ future inability to compete with foreign countries in STEM, so it encourages investment in STEM education. It authorizes funding for NASA, NOAA, National Institute for Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and a whole array of merit-based education grants, fellowships, and training. We love the arts, but there is no corresponding strategic need for them, so they are not included in this program
- US companies are constantly lobbying Congress to allow more foreign holders of advanced STEM degrees to have permanent resident status, because such experts are in high demand. (The controversial STEM Jobs Act is one attempt to address such demand.) There is no corresponding demand for students in the arts.
- The shortage of STEM experts in the United States is such that the Department of Homeland Security maintains a special list of STEM degree programs, foreign students enrolled in which are eligible to stay in the country longer while pursuing their work. No such incentives are offered to foreign art students, as the need for them is not keenly felt.
- STEM is especially important for women, as there are still severe shortages in the number of women who pursue them. Arts suffer no shortage of women.
- The United States National Academies, NASA, National Science Foundation, US Department of Education, and the Department of Energy all have STEM education initiatives of their own, which you can read about by searching their web sites for STEM.
Allow the arts to stand on their own merits, and don’t confuse them with the strategic importance of STEM. It’s time to release the STEAM.