Some of the best blogs are short, to the point and avoid the soapbox. This one is neither the first nor the third, but hopefully drifts into the second.
At the risk of wading into two controversial topics instead of just one, the debate about the value and utility of STEM always seemed a false choice in the same way I’ve always felt the debate between evolution and creationism was a false choice.
As someone who would lean more toward the evolution end of the spectrum, and while I don’t personally believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, I have no trouble with the notion of a divine entity creating a universe where a process as infinitely complex as evolution is possible.
Now, having solved that problem in less than 50 words, and, acknowledging the analogy may be a bit grandiose as compared to a current political hot-button issue for some, I think the same polarizing false choice exists when it comes to STEM.
Consider the words of President Jacobs speaking recently to the Business Alliance for Higher Education and the Economy:
How will you know if you should be for or against the bank bailouts; how will you know if you need to invest the time to learn a new computer program or if you need a new medical procedure if you aren’t fluent in at least the basics of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?
The primary focus of my job is to get the University into the news, ideally into the national news. Rarely do I do that by pitching UT alone and by itself. I pitch the institutions’s knowledge base, connecting UT to a larger national trend, like the auto industry, alternative energy or the economic stimulus.
STEM advocates have effectively used the things they’ve learned in their social science and humanities educations to communicate with political leaders the importance of STEM disciplines and make it the trend.
It seems to me (and no doubt thousands long before me) that the key for those disciplines that don’t help spell “STEM” isn’t to push away from STEM, but to show how the social sciences and the humanities are inextricably linked to the end goal politicians want STEM to produce: a vibrant economy.
So why not highlight more prominently to students the fact that those who know two – or three – foreign languages or who understand and can assimilate into a foreign culture will be leaps and bounds ahead in their international business careers as compared to those (like me) who know about 1.3 languages?
Why not point out louder that the creativity and adaptive abilities needed in English and Theatre are the same qualities needed by non-profit organizations struggling to help more with less money or businesses working to do more with more?
Is there any more important topic in the world right now than the social science of economics?
If the goal behind STEM is economic development and prosperity, show me an economically prosperous city or region without a strong artistic center. As UT President Lloyd Jacobs has pointed out as he advocates Toledo position itself as a University town, art and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.
I would love to put out a press release to NBC Nightly News saying “UT is great, come cover UT” and avoid the clutter of external linkages to outside trends that don’t 100 percent coincide with my goal of UT news coverage. But Brian Williams
‘s assistant’s assistant’s assistant is busy, doesn’t know UT and I’ll have more luck coupling the work of UT’s Environmental Sciences Department to “green” national trends.
In the same way, linking other disciplines to STEM will probably develop better outcomes and greater appreciation for those disciplines than going the Job 38:11 route.*
* Shameless Da Vinci Code reference