by Maile Pahoa
There is a growing divide occurring between STEM-focused education and a liberal education in the U.S. Currently, there is a need for scientists and engineers to drive the U.S. economy, but that should not, and does not, mean the arts and humanities have nothing to offer in the way of “hard science”. Although this need for STEM-focused education continues to put the arts and humanities on a back burner, there is growing evidence that an integrated curriculum is proving to be more beneficial than a single-focus education. Fostering critical thinking skills through arts and humanities allow students to think outside the box, which encourages innovation and ingenuity. A science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) curriculum can also enable students to see different perspectives on problems giving them a broader world view that can help them make decisions as productive members of society. A curriculum fully integrating the liberal arts with STEM should be the new standard curriculum to develop creative scientists and engineers in a constantly changing global market.
There is a push for STEM curricula because of the lack of scientists being produced in the U.S., but the addition of the arts and humanities can aid in fresh ideas for new technologies. J. J. Denny, of the United States Air Force, explains that, “in 2002, only 17 percent of U.S. undergraduates earned engineering degrees, as compared to 53 percent in China” (5). 58% of engineering doctorates went to foreign-born students. Due to the lack of U.S.-born scientists and the current rate of scientists approaching retirement age, the nation is falling behind in new technologies and innovations (Denny 7). This is detrimental not only to the U.S. economy, but to national security as well. However, because arts and humanities encourage new ideas and creative thinking, integrating the two curricula could help the U.S. stay competitive in the global economy by producing new ideas and having the ingenuity to accomplish the hands-on work.
Research suggests integrating a humanities curriculum into science classes increases the understanding of scientific concepts and literacies and not just the practical side of STEM. A humanities curricula enhances hard science by teaching children to think critically. For instance, the University of New York at Potsdam has incorporated the arts and humanities into their STEM curriculum. This program “facilitates cross-disciplinary and information literacy” (Madden et al. 544), in order to gain resources. The students in the program will also be creative thinkers and able to problem solve using unconventional methods. This program outlines the expected results from the curriculum, such as gaining knowledge in communication (written, oral, visual and listening), organization and time management, management and motivation of others, discerning learner’s scope of knowledge in at least two fields (Madden et al. 544).
A STEAM curriculum also allows a more diverse group of students to be able to engage in learning hard science by providing alternate ways of learning. The addition of humanities in a STEM curriculum enables those students who do not have a strong foundation in science to have a better understanding of the subject matter (Garik & Ben´etreau-Dupin 8). Garik and Ben´etreau-Dupin state that “an approach to science education that links the humanities and the sciences can engage a broader cross-section of students” (8). STEM education puts more emphasis on the results and not the path, so incorporating the arts and humanities allows more students to find different paths to yield results.
The addition of the arts and humanities in a STEM curriculum aids in creating well-rounded adults that are concerned with their contributions to society. Garik and Ben´etreau-Dupin argue that History and the Philosophy of Science (HPS) enhance science classes and teach kids how to be part of a democratic civilization, claiming, “In a democracy, one of the principal objectives of an education (especially a public education) is to prepare students to be socially and politically contributing citizens” (7). The report emphasizes the importance of looking at science from a humanitarian aspect, which helps to enhance a STEM curricula. Thinking critically helps kids to understand the concepts of science and how it fits in with their society and culture.
Denny argued for greater emphasis should be put on a STEM-focused curriculum because of the high demand for scientists in the U.S. job market. One reason for this is because even though the U.S. is still leading the world in the science and technology sector, it could lose ground because of the lack of undergrad students in S&T currently enrolled (7). Additionally, other countries, such as China, are climbing the technological ladder and “…producing increasing amounts of medium- to high-tech products for both commercial and military use…” (Denny 5). Furthermore, 70% of U.S. research and development occurs outside of the country, only increasing the need for more undergrads to major in the S&T sector, which is at its lowest enrollment since the 1970’s (5). Regardless, Dubreta claimed the addition of humanities and social sciences can help strengthen areas such as engineering, because social issues keep “continuity, as well as at least nominally, a framework for introducing basic chapters in the field of social theory to future engineers” (5). If technologies are based around the needs a society, such as defense, sustainable energy, communication, etc., scientists that understand these needs will be better equipped to fill the demands for the communities or countries they live in (Dubreta 3).
To counter Denny’s point, Nussbaum argued the arts and humanities teach students how to be productive adults in society and has been systematically over-looked for too long. Dylan also supported this idea, stating:
The increasing corporatization of university spaces and overt orientation toward markets tends to elicit from students, especially those who perceive university education as job-readiness training, a desire to learn precisely what they need to know to be prepared for the market. This phenomenon coupled with the growing number of students lacking preparedness for higher education makes difficult the pursuit of liberal arts objectives. (37)
The current global market leans towards science and technology and does not allow room for a liberal education. However, because science is still being taught using the same methods for last few decades and have failed to produce a curriculum that meets the needs of the changing world an integrated curriculum would provide the understanding of what, why and how to meet those demands (Madden et al. 544).
Nussbaum argues that society puts an emphasis on STEM education because of the economic values it offers, claiming that, “Thirsty for national profit, nations and their systems of education are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive” (para. 2). While this may be true, there is still no denying the importance of STEM in the world today. By combining the two curricula, students gain the knowledge needed to produce new technologies through STEM, but are also encouraged to come up with more ingenious solutions while being taught the fundamental knowledge of living in a society while making decisions that affect not just themselves, but everyone, through the arts and humanities. Because the arts and humanities allows students to learn and succeed in a broader range of science and engineering, instead of learning with a single-minded purpose, the standard curriculum should be an integration of both liberal studies and STEM.
Maile Pahoa is a 38-year-old wife and mother of four children and grandmother of one. She was born and raised in southern California and currently resides in the mountains of northern San Diego county. While attending Ashford University and working on her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology, she also plays roller derby for a nearby league and is captain of the league’s charter team for the current season. Her goal after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree is to continue with school and earn her Master’s degree in Heritage Studies.