Friday, November 6, 2009

Stemming STEM education

I am a science teacher; the STEM movement gives me job security. If I wanted job security, I would have remained a pediatrician in north Jersey--given the way we treat kids, especially poor kids, I would have always had business.

STEM, of course, stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It has its own coalition, its own journal, and has endeared the folk in power (first Bush, now Obama). It puts the sexay into nerd-dom.

But it's a farce.

People in power (Presidents, Generals, CEOs) would like to remain in power--it takes a special kind of warped person to gain that kind of power. Yes, intelligence matters, but plenty of intelligent people have opted to raise families, get involved in their communities, and resist the pull.

STEM education is all about power. There is no AHEM (Arts, History, English, Music) equivalent. We are not ruling the world with our literature or our concept of self-government or even our music--we are ruling the world with our bombs.

My bias is, obviously, science.

Science is not math. Math uses logic, and is rational. Science is stuck with what we can observe. It is often clunky and inelegant, leading to monstrosities like the string theory--we do the best we can, but the universe keeps burping.

Math is a closed universe, a warm school marm opening her bosom to those students who persevere--it makes sense.

Science, well, we got problems. Antimatter, Higgs bosons, cosmic rays, origins--the field is a lovely mess. If you don't like uncertainty, become a mathematician or an engineer.

The reason we need more technologists is because of the nearsightedness of technologists before us.

Mind you, I am a bit of a Luddite--I think the automobile has more downsides than benefits. Still, why the emphasis on STEM?

Because we want to improve the economy.
Because we want to remain a superpower.
Because we want to improve the Third World.

You won't hear things like "to become a better person" or "to promote a student's happiness."

I think anyone who has even an iota of a chance to get involved in weaponry capable of destroying lives needs to know Keats, to know Blake.

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

I'm not playing here. Who made the technologists, the politicians, the money class the gods?
What is our goal in school?
What matters?

We revere technology, much more so than science. A child who chases butterflies does not do as well as a child who assumes the role of little engineer, plowing his way through elementary school math, pleasing his teachers and his parents with his adult ways.

We judge success by our grades as children, by our income as adults. We judge our nation's success by our ability to kick international ass, by our rockets, by our military.

We do not judge it by the way we treat our children--if we did, we would be ashamed.
We do not judge it by the way we treat our elderly--if we did we would be ashamed.

I teach science. I teach children how to see, how to question, how to predict events based on prior events.

Some of my students will go on to be mathematicians, or engineers, or technologists--a very few will go on to be professional scientists.

Still, more than a handful will spend a few moments each day pondering just what this thing called "universe" really is, pondering mystery, pondering life.

It will not result in riches; it will not result in power. It will, however, make them feel a very real part of this universe, a part of a huge, incomprehensible mystery that makes those of us paying attention joyful.

Maybe even ecstatic. Maybe even a life of sustained ecstasy.

Pure, unadulterated science can help you get there.


Unknown said...

I can now proudly call myself a member of AHEM. I can even see the slogan, "AHEM, WHAT ABOUT US?" You have to say it with a real phlemy sound, like it's almost German. Doyle, you're a genius.

Doug Noon said...

AHEM! Let's say it like we mean it.

You're on a roll.

Unknown said...


This is where local communities need to start when then think about school reform: what matters to us? And when they really think about the answer to that question, their responses just may surprise us.

Glad you are standing up for the humanities; we could use the help.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Science better fits the AHEM group than the STEM group--maybe we can SHAME the power elite into seeing this.

Dear Doug,

Thanks for the words. Maybe one of us could write a song to support the movement.

Dear Patrick,

As you know, science is considered part of the liberal arts, as is math. Engineering and technology are not.

The STEM movement threatens to drive apart science and the arts at the elementary level, which reduces education to indoctrination.

And it does get down to local needs and local ideals--I hope the Race to the Top nonsense falls flat.

Unknown said...

I love the SHAME acronym. Perhaps we could add Drama at the end and we could add Athletics to the beginning (it's a stretch, but I still think PE has strong value in helping people learn to live well) and we could be ASHAMED.

Charlie Roy said...

@ Doyle
I always enjoy reading your posts on Sunday morning. There's a deep compliment behind that but I'm not sure exactly what it is as the coffee hasn't kicked in yet. A wise person once said we should judge a society based off how well they treat the lowest among them. In that regard I don't imagine any number of missiles will help us much.

Kathryn J said...

Hopefully, the standards will change soon so that science becomes something other than a giant collection of facts and becomes a way of knowing, predicting, experiencing, and observing. I love this post!

Unknown said...

82% of the Congress believes that pie charts are important.

21% don't care about pie charts

7% pay more attention to the chart than the actual percent and fail to realize that it's more than 100%

In another pie chart:

91% of congress still believes that it's possible to "give 110%" and that unsustainable growth is the future of America, while the other 9% are simply thinking about pie or questioning whether pi is eternal and random and what that means for their deepest existential quandries.

doyle said...

Dear John,

We'd have a blast writing an acronym book together--I just read what you did with the RAFT method (FART is always a good word in a classroom).

Speaking of pi, didn't the Louisiana legislature once try to simplify it? I need to go do some research.

Dear Charlie,

That's about as good a compliment anyone can receive. Thanks!

Dear Kathryn,

NJ's standards are a bit inconsistent--they start with a wonderful preface, about teaching discovery, then go on to prescribe 17, 301 things they want "taught"--too many people on the committee.

I still hold out hope though. (THanks for the words!)

Mr. P said...

loved the rap - did you write it?
what did ya do with it?

doyle said...

Yep, it was mine.
I figured the overwhelming silence meant I went over the top in inanity.

A couple of us rapped in bio class 3 years ago.

I may use it again soon.

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