November 24, 2013

Another View: Emphasis on STEM education overshadows arts, humanities

These areas of knowledge complement each other and should not pitted against one another.

By Justin Wolfe

On Nov. 3, the Maine Sunday Telegram published a column extolling the virtues of STEM education in Maine’s schools (“Maine Voices: We must rethink how STEM is taught”).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Wolff of Bangor is an associate professor of art history at the University of Maine and director of the University of Maine Humanities Initiative.

Though the column argued that “K-12 STEM education ... is overdue for a rethink,” and though its recommendations were wise, it overlooks the importance of balancing education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with an equal emphasis on the arts and humanities.

Advocacy for STEM education often comes at the expense of humanities programs.

Rather than pit these areas of knowledge against one another, we must understand how the humanities teach skills that are foundational to successful STEM education. Who wants to hire a scientist who can’t write? Who wants to employ an engineer who isn’t a creative problem-solver? Doesn’t technological innovation require critical reasoning, ethical awareness and sensitivity to the diverse populations in which such advancements are actually put to use?

Majors in humanities disciplines gain excellent training for long-term success in meaningful careers.

A December 2012 survey of employers conducted by the The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace determined that job applicants are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities. These are precisely the skills arts and humanities courses teach with rigor, insight and passion.

The report also concluded that teachers and administrators should seek to break down “the false dichotomy of liberal arts and career development,” as they are “intrinsically linked.”

Exposure to the arts and humanities facilitates the good life by promoting ethical awareness, political agency and an appreciation of cultural diversity.

These are prerequisites for an informed citizenry and healthy states. Just as colleges and universities would do well to remember this, so would those who shape Maine’s K-12 curricula.

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