Published on 2012/03/06

STEM Education In America Is Half-Brained And A Four-Letter Word

STEM Education In America Is Half-Brained And A Four-Letter Word
In order to spark innovation, creativity and forward thinking in learners, arts must garner the same attention from educators and legislators as STEM subjects. Photo illustration by Bernard Goldbach.

The education system in America has been hijacked by the left-brain, convergent thinking Sputnik generation of leadership who fail to recall how imagination coupled with basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics was our country’s formula for success in winning the race to the moon.

The prescription to heal our underperforming education system led to the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 which has resulted in little reform and forced teachers to focus on test metrics. The subsequent prescription by the U.S. Government added a designer drug focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Although these are key education discipline areas; where is the creative design component of the arts? When did the element of imagination and innovation drop off the education radar screen? Without the arts, STEM is just a four-letter word.

The arts are an integral component of schooling; arts programs in K-12 education as well as universities have the ability to touch future artists as well as individuals that are pursuing different fields of study. Congruently, there is a growing interest in measuring the impact of the arts as a key component to educational curricula because research has revealed that there are a myriad of benefits that are associated with exposure to the arts.

Arts education research is a relatively young field, but there has been a substantial amount of research on the relationship between the arts and divergent thinking. More specifically, research demonstrates that arts education has an impact in developing critical thinking skills. Another emerging trend in arts education coursework is the inclusion of the arts within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) movement. STEM education receives national attention and a considerable stream of funding; the STEM to STEAM (STEM plus arts) movement is one way to bring arts education to the forefront. This has led to the creation of a blog dedicated the inclusion of the arts entitled the

The arts are not a liability to the STEM purists who deem their linear left brain convergent approach to education as superior. If we followed this logic we would still have the bug prone Microsoft operating system and not the innovatively designed Apple system which showcases function and form, while remaining visually attractive. Steve Jobs understood the balance of convergent and divergent (right brain/left brain) thinking equated to a whole brain approach to solving problems, innovation, thoughtful design and challenging the status quo.

The Right Brain Initiative non-profit is one of the many initiatives exposing the left-brain bias in education. They explain, “brains come with two sides for a reason. They need each other. They fill in each other’s blanks. One is messy by plan. The other regimented. One is linear. The other bounces off walls. One reasons. The other feels. But what happens when they work together is magical. Magical enough to make kids connect, achieve, aspire, and succeed. In a future that will require the full measure of our thinking, it’s no time to leave kids half-interested, half-motivated, half-engaged, half-ready.”

We need to add the arts to be a more innovative, creative, and forward thinking to compete globally. So send the STEM addicts to rehab. We need to move from STEM to STEAM where whole (left and right) brain thinking can occur with the addition of the arts.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2012/03/06 at 1:58 pm

First off: great image!

It’s interesting, we push so hard to teach kids to follow the scientific process and maintain this strict order to what they do, how they do it, and how they think about it.

But…all good science comes out of a curiosity – a question about a challenging phenomenon.

Without the ability to think creatively, how will our STEM scientists of the future be able to even conceive of the changes we’re capable of, or form the questions that are needed to kick off the scientific process?

Alexis C. 2012/03/10 at 10:58 am

The problem with the arts is that they’re finicky. Some students will be truly enriched by them, but I think many see them as a free pass to bullshit through a class and get an easy grade. If there was a way to better measure achievements and effort in the arts I think they would be more effective as an enrichment area.

    Edward Abeyta 2012/03/13 at 2:20 pm

    The arts have indeed been associated with a mind-set by some students as a means to receive an “easy grade.” However, you point is the key “better measure achievements and effort in the arts.” Several of my colleagues in San Diego are attempting to do just that by focusing on efforts to measure and implement effective STEM+Arts integration. The DNA of Creativity group is one such group and the UC San Diego Neuroscience Center is making some great contributions in this area.

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