In a recent Washington Post piece, Fareed Zakaria pondered whether America’s fascination with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education is putting us on a “dangerously narrow path for the future.”
The marriage of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and the creation of its acronym, began in the ’90s with the National Science Foundation. Since then, the leaders of education at every level, from kindergarten through college, have been pining for a greater emphasis on these specific areas while looking to decrease interest in the humanities, all for the sake of surviving and excelling in the technological age that has engulfed the globe.
But is this the right move? Wouldn’t such a centralized focus on these areas negatively affect other areas of study, most importantly, English? And doesn’t STEM demand a strong command of the English language, almost first and foremost? If being efficient in language is proportionate to how clearly one can think critically, how are students supposed to learn, study, and carry out tasks in a coherent matter, then collect their thoughts and solve the issues that require further introspection and contemplative discussion with their peers?
“The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy.”
In terms of possessing the right tools to get a job, Zakaria mentions a survey that was recently done with more than 100 business leaders by management consultant Andrew Benett. Benett found that out of those 100 business leaders, 84 of them said “they would rather hire smart, passionate people, even if they didn’t have the exact skills their companies needed.” And, adding to that, in 2013, two Oxford scholars did an in-depth study of employment and came to the conclusion that, in order for workers to retain jobs without the worry of being replaced by computers, the most important skills they can have are “creative and social skills.” This is in line with Zakaria’s belief that “Critical thinking is, in the end, the only way to protect American jobs.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos agrees. Zakaria relates a Forbes story in which Bezos says he and his staff begin business meetings by reading six-page, printed memos in complete silence for about 30 minutes.
“Full sentences are harder to write,” Bezos explained. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”
That’s not to say that our interest in STEM is misguided. Students would benefit the most educationally, possibly emotionally, if they were allowed to learn in a diverse and rich pool of studies, free to choose what areas they’re interested in. They are, after all, individuals, no matter how young or old. It doesn’t make sense to focus them on one specified area just because it’s what’s being championed by President Obama and propagated by government officials and companies who think, like always, that the individual can be sacrificed for the good of the country and its economy.
So where, at this juncture in time, do we turn? Where do you think we should venture – further into the external, into that which is mechanically and inherently detached from ourselves, into the illusory nature of technology, or into ourselves ?