Friday, July 5, 2013


I have a small problem with the Arne, Eli,  and Bill Circus' goal to create "college and corporate career-readiness." I still have a soft spot in my heart for democracy and the pursuit of happiness, and these unhappy men in suits keep popping up like greenhead flies. On the whole, I prefer the greenheads.

Photo by Tom Murray, under modified CC license. at BugGuide.Net

Suppose for the moment that college and career-readiness should be the goal of  public schools, that we should create a caste of worker-bees for the greater profit.  Suppose that we truly wanted to make a creative class of citizens, ready to design nuclear warheads and cure cancer. What if?

Here's the very, very sad part. The push for STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) is exactly the wrong way to go.

Arne's Army is right about a few things--the first world human world will be vastly different in just a generation, in ways we cannot predict. We will need to solve problems beyond how to build a better corkscrew.

Half of STEM is static, and useless for this--technology and engineering do allow for a better acronym, but they won't produce better thinkers.

If the point of requiring technology and engineering is to enhance a child's ability to solve problems, let's call it problem-solving. Let's trade the "TE" in STEM for a "P." While engineering abounds with problem-solving, I can do it a lot cheaper with matchstick problems.

At any rate, solving problems just for its own sake, as fun as it might be (and I grew up feeding on Martin Gardner's endless questions), does not justify spending the billions of dollars a year we spend on public education.

Problem-solving without cultural context is like masturbating--as much fun as it might be, in the end, not a whole lot is accomplished. Which is why we need arts.

That we even need to question the purpose of the arts in our humanity shows how far back with slithered to our reptilian roots. (Am I the only one who thinks I see the eyes of Voldemort's snake Nagini when looking at headshots of the ultra-wealthy?)

Not Nagini, from TED

The other nice thing about "arts" is that it starts with an "a," a convenient letter for any acronym.

So we drop a T and an E from STEM, and add an A, what do we get?

MAPS are what we once used to help us get less lost.
Today, more than ever, we need  to get less lost.

I prefer SPAM, but folks think I'm daffy as it is.


John Spencer said...

Our vacation has turned out to be mostly about science. We went to a really cool hands-on science center where some of the experiements were set up for them and then they had spaces where kids could just explore, ask questions, etc. We looked at the stars and caught a glimpse of the universe. We went to a dinosaur museum and they asked questions about the fossils. But we also went hiking and went on long walks and just . . . observed.

None of it was STEM. Some of it was MAPS.

Moulton said...

See Computational Thinking and STEAM.

doyle said...

Dear John,

As my favorite Yogi said, ""You can observe a lot by just watching."

We're reflective creatures in reflexive, non-reflective times.

Dear Moulton,

Thanks for the link.