Thursday, January 8, 2015

STEAM vs. STEM: The Importance of Art in Education

The STEM vs. STEAM debate is a no-brainer.  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is rounded out and made more holistic by including the Arts to make STEM into STEAM. 

A quick glance at the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, well-known as an anatomist, architect, botanist, cartographer, engineer, geologist, inventor, mathematician, musician, painter, sculptor, and writer attests to the importance of art education and the functionality of STEAM over STEM.  When STEM was “new” it seemed everyone was caught up in the trend.  The goals of raising test scores (especially in Math and English) led to some schools de-emphasizing Science and Technology.  This was evidenced by less funding for teacher training in those subjects and the closing of shop, science, art, music, and technology classes. Those that advocated for including art in the STEM system as well as keeping art programs alive in schools were often misunderstood as whining liberals trying to get the “soft sciences” back into the curriculum.

New York City government decided to determine compliance to NY State requirements for art programs in public schools.  They found many schools were not in compliance.  They found that dropout rates increased noticeably when schools either diminished, greatly reduced or cut arts education. Crime rates were higher in these neighborhoods. This resulted in increased in law enforcement costs at all levels. These costs of far exceeded the cost to fund the school arts programs.  To quote from the NYC Comptroller’s report:  

Arts education has long been recognized by experts around the world as having a tremendously positive influence on children and their academic attainment, social emotional development and future employment.  The skills learned from arts education are more relevant today than ever, as New York City’s economy is increasingly focused on industries that value creativity, innovation and problem solving.

Caricature by Leonardo da Vinci
When you consider these points and stop to take a look back at Leonardo’s notes and sketches, you can clearly see the value of integrating a diverse base of knowledge for our youth. This knowledge base and skills sets should cross the boundaries of labels such as Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.  Leonardo da Vinci integrated knowledge simultaneously to gain knowledge and applied the knowledge to create inventions to solve problems. This resulted in his ability to engage in critical, creative, and holistic thinking strategies. These abilities and strengths are very different from what we encourage in modern education, which is often characterized by segmentation.  The current U.S. education system creates division among the various disciplines often teaching them in separate periods and classes.  Math is taught separately from English.  Math is rarely taught in English class.  English almost never taught in Math class.  Yet most students have the most difficulty with the story problems because they have trouble understanding the language.

Unlike many other programs, S.E.E.D.S. is a systematic and integrated holistic education program.  We start with the curiosity and interests of the learner.  S.E.E.D.S. uses STEAM to weave relevant academic elements into a project-based lessons and activities. The hands-on interactions naturally leads to learning diverse yet interconnected and integrated subject matter.