Darren K. Woods
As business men and women, we recognize the critical need for a vital workforce in continuing to keep both our local and national economies prosperous. The far-reaching success of our business endeavors rests in the hands of the next generation – trained people coming out of universities – and as leaders in our fields we must be concerned with the quality of their education.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future looks grim. In its occupational employment projections, the bureau indicated that from 2009 to 2018, “The United States will have more than 1.2 million job openings in science, technology, engineering and math. These will include scientists, doctors, software developers, and engineers. Yet, there will be a significant shortage of qualified college graduates to fill these careers.” So then, what must be done to ensure a future filled with inventors, creators and innovators?
Even before the bureau’s findings, the Bush administration was concerned about American students’ mediocre scores in math and science and implemented the American Competitiveness Initiative. Primarily centered around the creation of a STEM curriculum, this focus on science, technology, engineering and math remains a major platform for the White House and is at the heart of President Barack Obama’s educational stance as well. President Obama articulated a clear priority for STEM education when he said that “American students must move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math,” and his administration has worked to bring about a cohesive national strategy to integrate STEM curriculum into all levels of education from kindergarten through graduate fellowships. Yes, STEM has certainly caught on as the buzzword for education in the past few years, but now experts in all fields argue that STEM should become STEAM –“A” representing the arts.
It would be a stretch to imply that STEAM would overtake STEM, but there is great interest in finding ways that the intersection of the arts with STEM fields can enhance student engagement and learning, leading to more creative, exploratory and innovative thinking. Kyle Chayka (Blouin Artinfo) observes, “Science, as much as art, is a creative process, but science education encourages far different skill sets and thinking than does training in the arts, visual or otherwise. Schools forcing teachers to align their material with standardized tests have created a restrictive environment that places the emphasis not on innovation, but on rote learning.” STEAM is gaining traction as a movement in government research circles with multiple agencies acknowledging that art and science are better together than apart. Just last year, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), introduced House Resolution 319, which professes that “adding art and design into federal programs that target science, technology, engineering and math would encourage innovation and economic growth in the United States.” One doesn’t need to try too hard to visualize that teaching geometry through sculpting lessons is more engaging than simply learning to solve equations, or that studying abstract painting can do more to teach spatial relationships than mathematical problems alone. But is it essential? In my opinion, yes!
I believe the primary reason for including the arts in STEM curriculum is their ability to foster creativity. Artists think “outside the box” – welcoming chaos and making it ordered reality. They take thoughts and make them tangible in music, painting, literature and dance, but that doesn’t mean that arts education will beget only artists. History is full of examples of what can come when art and science intersect. Albert Einstein was a trained violinist and Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was a talented painter. And of course, who can ignore the genius of the late Steve Jobs, who as one of the greatest innovators of the century was as concerned with the esthetics of the iPhone as he was with the technology that ran it. To him, the iPhone was a piece of art that was useful. It is disheartening to me that a great part of arts budgeting in schools has been cut or eliminated. I often say that if we didn’t have high school football, we wouldn’t have high school band. But the truth is, if we invest in ALL of it, adding arts to the equation, we will rise to the top of the creativity platform once again, bringing a world of scientists who are explorers, creators and innovators.
Darren K. Woods is general director of the Fort Worth Opera.