Going From STEM to STEAM — The Arts Have a Role in America’s Future, Too
Joseph Piro, Education Week
In education circles, STEM—the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—has been gathering, for want of a better descriptor, “alpha” status. Not only has President Barack Obama announced a $250 million public-private initiative to recruit and train more STEM teachers, but also the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top Fund grants competition is giving bonus points for applications that stress STEM instruction.
This funding is on top of the nearly $700 million the federal government already spends on science and math education programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies. Factor in what’s earmarked by individual states for STEM and a picture emerges of where a lot of tax money is rightfully going.
This generous support is being allocated in the belief (or fear) that the United States is becoming less competitive and secure, that we are losing our global-leader status in STEM fields and being eclipsed by other countries, mostly in Asia.
Yet, in the midst of all the STEM frenzy, we may want to do something riskier, and more imaginative, to save the country: turn STEM funding into STEAM funding. Inserting the letter A, for the arts, into the acronym could afford us even greater global advantage.
Many may be puzzled by this statement, considering that the arts have held a traditionally marginalized place in both American society and the school curriculum. And, in the eyes of some, support for the arts has a dubious payback, especially in areas of national concern such as defense, homeland security, and technology. The arts are something we do when we stop being serious. Friday afternoons spent drawing turkeys, pumpkins, and valentines in more classrooms than one might think can attest to this.
But just consider the following. A 2008 study from the National Endowment for the Arts, “Artists in the Workforce,” showed that individuals involved in the arts represent a sizable branch of the labor force, only slightly smaller than the total number of active-duty and reserve personnel in the U.S. military. What may also be surprising to some is that artists make up a larger occupational group than lawyers, medical doctors, or agricultural workers. The size of the artistic community gives it an astonishing $70 billion aggregate annual income. The country’s $316 billion communication and entertainment business employs a diverse range of artists, including musicians, actors, filmmakers, videographers, and architects. It is probably safe to say that most of these people prepared for their careers by participating in some sort of arts education program…
Joseph Piro is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the school of education at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, in Brookville, N.Y.
Teachers, what do you think?